Olympics gymnastics: in US team gold, a glimpse of the real Jordyn Wieber
America won the women's team gymnastics gold Tuesday at the London Olympics and made some history. In the process, Jordyn Wieber found 'redemption.'
Almost the first word that came out of Wieber's mouth after she and her teammates put on a clinic in the gymnastics team event Tuesday, winning gold in what one coach colorfully called a "shed-whuppin'," was "redemption." But it was spoken like one of her toe-point perfect routines – rock solid and never wavering.
Put simply, after the biggest disappointment of her gymnastic life Sunday in failing to qualify for the individual all-around final, Jordyn Wieber got down to business. As her teammates knew she would. As her coach knew she would. As the gymnastics world, surely, knew she would.
Only we doubted her, because we didn't know her.
Now, perhaps, we do.
In the end, the team event Tuesday was an anticlimax. America started strong, staking itself a lead with three perfect vaults. McKayla Maroney's vault scratched the rafters before she came down on the mat, feather-soft and still. "A moonshot," coach John Geddert called it. In what quickly boiled down to a two-team meet, Russia clawed back the lead by nailing their more difficult routines on the uneven bars. On the beam, America opened some distance as the Russians wobbled. With the US ahead, but not completely comfortably, only the floor exercise loomed.
There, Russia imploded utterly, with two gymnasts landing face-down on two of their passes. When the US followed, their routines had the feeling of a victory lap – all pressure removed as the exultant expectation of certain history shone through. Never before had the US women won the team event in an Olympics held on foreign soil.
Aside from the vault, it was a steady-as-she-goes performance, if not spectacular in the difficulty then unearthly in its consistency. The judges surely saw a few toes out of line somewhere, but no one else in the arena did.
"That's one of our strengths, our consistency," said another of the team's coaches, Liang Chow.
So comprehensive was the victory that, during her floor routine, Ms. Wieber even allowed herself the luxury of a smile after every successful pass – not the smile of the professional gymnast, seemingly painted on with the generous measures of glitter and mascara, but genuine and irrepressible.
Jordyn Wieber was happy.
Wieber has never been Shawn Johnson. Smiles are not always the currency of her joy. Nor are words, really. Asked what Wieber said to him after the gold was won Tuesday, coach Geddert, said: "I love you," then paused and smiled. "No, that's just what I wished she said."
In fact, he couldn't remember her saying anything. "She doesn't say a whole lot – ever," he said.
You get the sense that Wieber could go to the gym every day with a lunch pail and a hard hat. Make no mistake, all the girls of the US team work hard. Their gold medals are confirmation of that.
But Wieber seems to inhabit the work. She doesn't need words because, what is she going to say, really? Just watch her and you'll know all you need to know.
Which is what made Sunday so heartbreaking.
And Tuesday inevitable.
Wieber did not have a bad day in the all-around qualifications Sunday. Perhaps it was not to her standards in a how-could-Michael-Phelps-only-win-silver kind of way. The fact is, two very good Americans were just better on that day.
But she did very little wrong. Yet she was forced to pay the severest price imaginable for an elite gymnast. Now, she will probably never have her Mary Lou moment.
But what was there to say, really? There were some tears, Geddert said – about five minutes' worth – and some loving words from her teammates. Then, it was time to get to work. Because, that is just what Jordyn Wieber does.
"It's the kind of kid she is," Geddert said.
The question came a thousand times in the press lines Tuesday night.
"Did you worry about her?"
"Did you think there might be any hangover?"
Geddert just smiled.
What was there to say, really? America had just gotten its answer.