The elimination of U.S. gymnast superstar Jordyn Wieber from the individual all-around final at the London Olympics continues to reverberate, with her coach saying that the format of the Olympics competition is an “injustice.”
Wieber, the 17-year-old gymnast from DeWitt, Mich., who entered the Games as the leader and star of Team USA’s “Fabulous Five” and the current world champion, failed to qualify for the individual all-around title Sunday after uncharacteristic slip-ups cost her one-tenth of a point and put her in third place behind teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, respectively. Countries can enter just two gymnasts in the all-around final, so by the rules Wieber was out.
“We have always known the 2 per country rule, we are not crying of spilt milk, yet it makes it difficult to explain how the 4th best AA finisher, the former world champion, does not get a shot at fulfilling her dream, just because her country happens to be incredibly strong,” her coach John Geddert wrote in a Facebook posting. “The sting of this injustice is painful and for the record I have voiced this opinion time and time again …. To penalize an athlete or country for being OUTSTANDING is not in the spirit of sport and certainly not the spirit of the Olympic Games.”
Geddert has coached Wieber during her entire career and is also the women’s team coach; he declined to speak to the media about the situation.
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Bela Karolyi, the gymnastics coaching legend who led the “Magnificent Seven” USA women’s gymnastics team to gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, also blasted the rule.
“What a travesty!” Karolyi said in an interview with Al Michaels after the results. “How someone can afford to cut one of the best gymnasts?..To eliminate somebody because a teammate beat her. Still among the first four gymnasts in the world, and still you’re eliminated?”
Karolyi, whose wife, Martha, is the current U.S. women’s national team coordinator, questioned whether a “lineup mistake” cost Wieber a chance at the title. The former coach told reporters he was “troubled” by the fact that Wieber did not compete last as the anchor of the team. Geddert has reportedly said the lineups were not an issue.
Wieber posted on her own Facebook page that it was “hard to explain these feelings” but that she is honored to be on Team USA.
Wieber’s title as world champion may have preceded her misfortune. Only four reigning world champions have ever gone on to win Olympic gold in Olympic history.
“Jordyn is a phenomenal athlete and I think it just goes to show you that at the Olympic Games anything is possible,” Kerri Strug, a member of the gold medal-winning “Magnificent Seven” team, told “Good Morning America.” “She didn’t have the competition of her life in the prelims but she can come back in the team finals and show everyone how strong she is.”
Despite the surprise in the individual race, the United States as a team dominated on Sunday, finishing with 181.863 points to Russia’s 180.429. Defending Olympic champion China was third with 176.637 points.
The team is fighting to capture its first team title since Strug led the “Magnificent Seven” to the top of the podium in Atlanta 16 years ago.
In addition to Wieber, Douglas and Raisman, the “Fabulous Five” of Team USA consists of McKayla Maroney, the 16-year-old reigning world champion on the vault, and Kyla Ross, 15, the youngest member of the team.
Douglas, 16, earned the nickname “The Flying Squirrel,” from coaches for her flexibility and speed, while Raisman stands out as the team captain and elder stateswoman at 18-years-old.
“This women’s team is phenomenal,” Strug said. “They’re mentally so tough. They’re physically fit. They have so much depth. Going into the finals they’re leading the Russians by a point and a half so we’re expecting great things from them.”
Even Wieber, it appears, has already turned her individual disappointment into a focus on the next goal, the team final on Tuesday.
“Thank you all for your love and support,” she Tweeted late Sunday. “I am so proud of our team today and I can’t wait for team finals!!”
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.