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Monday, July 30, 2012


LONDON Shortly after failing to qualify
for the individual all-around
finals, the face of USA
Gymnastics walked unsteadily
past the media. Jordyn Wieber walked with wide eyes, steered by a handler,
past her teammates, including
the two who had replaced her
in an event she was expected
to dominate. Even then the
tears would not stop. Aly Raisman , who came from nowhere to vault ahead
of her teammate with a
qualifying score of 60.391 to
best Wieber’s 60.032 and claim
her spot, looked almost as
upset: “It’s hard, because it’s something that you dream of
your whole life and it’s
difficult. I feel really bad. And
it’s hard. I don’t even know
what to say.” Gabrielle Douglas, ebullient
with her own 60.265 score
that will also see her to
Thursday’s all-around finals,
wavered between her own
pride and a knowing sadness for what Wieber had lost.
“It’s definitely a little
awkward.” Wieber, the reigning world
champion, kept moving,
guided by those hands, as if
she only knew what to do if
someone else told her. She
moved as if she saw nothing, her tear-streaked eyes wide,
her face a blank – as if
everything that had been lost
in failing to meet the
enormous expectations of her
talent had taken with it everything else. She stopped, finally, in that
same nightmarish daze. The
woman guiding her turned
for a moment, looking for
instruction, and when her
hands left Wieber’s shoulders, Wieber’s balance looked
shaky. She breathed in. Let
out a long sigh. Breathed in
again, sighed again. Still the
tears followed. She might
have been, in that moment, the loneliest person I’ve ever
laid eyes on. This is what broken dreams
look like, up close and
personal, carried in every
heaving breath and brutal tear
of a 17-year-old whose world
has just come crashing down around her. Wieber, pushed inexorably by
NBC and USA Gymnastics as
the face of the U.S. women’s
gymnastics team, instead had
transformed herself into a
touchstone to the other, darker side of the Olympics:
The fact that for every miracle
there is a dream that dies, for
every upset that changes one
life there is a failure that will
haunt another. So much is lost here. While the
American women advance
two stellar competitors into
the all-around finals, and
while the team still has the
mettle and talent to take gold in Tuesday’s team finals, a
young girl hoisted forward as
one of her country’s great
hopes for the games has
failed. She was the stunning
talent who would be the next gymnastics “It Girl” of these
London games, the next
Shawn Johnson or Nastia
Liukin or Mary Lou Retton, a
person whose entire life was
built toward that all-around individual gold – whose entire
life after that would be
pushed forward by that one
medal, that one shining
moment. All of that is gone. “I’m basically devastated for
her,” said her coach, John
Geddert. “She has trained her
entire life for this day and to
have it turn out anything less
than she deserves is going to be devastating. She has
waited her entire career for
this.” It took four events and just a
few slips up to bring her to
that devastation. She began
with a beautiful vault. She
was solid – just fine – on the
bars. But after a wobbly beam performance, and a 14.7 score
that changed everything,
there was suddenly one event
to go. Her own teammate, the
solid and reliable Raisman,
was coming up behind her. A threat had emerged no one
knew existed. Raisman was a floor specialist
with the floor event the only
one remaining, three-tenths of
a point behind her friend and
suddenly very much in the
hunt. Wieber went first, slipped out of bounds, and in
that moment everything had
changed. That shift, a life
changing of course against all
thought and planning belief,
had turned one girl’s fate in favor of another’s. Raisman
went next, was outstanding,
and when she lifted her hands
to end her routine she was
going to the all-around
instead. “I’m definitely worried (for
her),” said national team
coordinator Marta Karolyi.
“You try to find words, what
you can say.” Only there are no words. A
dream was over for an athlete
who had worked an entire
life to achieve it and then, like
a wisp of smoke, as if some
nefarious breeze had blown it away. There were no words. Wieber
herself, having worked her
way through a required NBC
interview, felt those hands on
her shoulders again, and again
they were on the move, the 17-year-old still crying, being
steered away, disappearing
behind a door and vanishing
from sight as suddenly as
everything she’d hoped for
had out on the floor.