SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - The prospect of a U.S. one-two in the Olympic Games women’s all-around competition gained fresh momentum after Gabby Douglas upset favorite Jordyn Wieber on the final day of the American gymnastics trials.
World all-around champion Wieber has long been viewed as the leading contender for Olympic gold in London, along with Russians Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina, but Douglas thrust her name into the mix with a scintillating display on Sunday.
Dubbed the ‘Flying Squirrel’ because of her height-defying gymnastics skill, Douglas edged fellow 16-year-old Wieber by a wafer-thin margin of 0.1 to win the all-around title at the HP Pavilion and secure the first spot on the Olympic team.
“I think they’re definitely leading contenders,” Shannon Miller, the most decorated U.S. gymnast of all time, told Reuters about the all-round title hopes in London for Douglas and Wieber.
”Not that they’re the only contenders. Certainly Viktoria Komova is going to be very strong and she’s really gunning for that top spot after missing out on the gold medal (to Wieber) just by a slight variation in Tokyo.
“You also can’t count the Chinese out of it as well and the Romanians are coming on strong ... but Gabby and Jordan definitely have a leg up right now,” said Miller, the 1993 and 1994 world all-around champion.
Four-time Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson, who announced her retirement from competition last month at age 20 due to recurring knee problems, saw Wieber and Douglas as favorites.
“Definitely, although I am biased as they are both from the USA,” Johnson told Reuters with a smile.
Johnson, who won Olympic gold on the beam at the 2008 Beijing Games along with silver in the team, all-around and floor exercise competitions, then adopted a serious tone.
“Gabby is progressing rapidly and I think she has not peaked yet,” she added. “She has yet to show the world what she is capable of. But she is a real spitfire. She’s got the attitude - the spunk, the sass.”
Douglas, a bubbly burst of energy both on and off the gymnastics mat, felt she and Wieber could only prosper from their on-going battles in all-around competition.
“I think me and Jordan have this competitiveness just to go out there and we are going to push each other like no other,” gushed the teenager, who finished a close second behind Wieber in the U.S. all-around competition last month.
“Everyone says this is like Shawn and Nastia (Liukin) all over again, so we are going to push each other to do great and amazing things, and that’s awesome because that’s what competition is about.”
Americans Liukin and Johnson were favorites for the individual all-around gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games where they ended up finishing one-two.
Wieber, renowned for her intense focus, raw power and remarkable consistency, showered praise on Douglas after her triumphant display at the HP Pavilion on Sunday.
”I‘m really proud of everyone, but especially Gabby,“ she said after losing only her second all-around competition since 2008. ”She had such an amazing performance.
“I know there are still areas I can clean up between now and before we go to training camp so I am going to work on those.”
Douglas and Wieber will be joined in London by Alexandra Raisman, Kyla Ross and vault specialist McKayla Maroney.
Esteemed coach Bela Karolyi, who with his wife Martha, the U.S. women’s national team coordinator, has produced nine Olympic champions and 15 world champions in the U.S. and Romania, has confidently backed the squad to win gold.
“I don’t believe any other country will have the luxury to line up with such a powerful combination,” he told reporters after the team was announced on Sunday.
“The truth will come out in the Olympic Games, and we will be solidly in first place for the team (competition).”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in San Jose; Editing by Larry Fine