In the Wake of the News
8:54 PM EDT, August 7, 2012
LONDON — In perhaps the most awkward moment for U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber in an Olympics full of them, the "Star Spangled Banner" played Tuesday inside North Greenwich Arena as reporters surrounded the tough-luck 17-year-old in the mixed zone.
The anthem celebrated a gold medal in the floor routine won by Wieber's teammate and best friend Aly Raisman. Backstage, explaining what went wrong in her routine when she stepped out of bounds again, Wieber fidgeted nervously with the straps of a backpack. She paused only slightly when the music for the medal ceremony interrupted her answer.
"It is a little bit of a disappointment," Wieber said.
That would be understating it a lot.
With Wieber's every word, reporters studied her face like it was a London tube map. Where might the expressions might lead us? After all, that was supposed to be Wieber, the world champion, standing where Raisman stood. This was supposed to be the most memorable 10 days of the teen-ager's career, not a time she wants to forget.
It would be wrong to overlook the significance of the U.S. gymnastics team winning gold. If that indeed was the primary goal of the Olympics for all five U.S. gymnasts, then they met it. The rest is a bonus.
But among U.S. athletes in individual events, only swimmer Ryan Lochte will finish the Olympics with a wider gap between expectations and results than Wieber. At least Wieber never inflated her own with self-promoting hype the way Lochte did.
But consider after punctuating the disappointment with a seventh-place finish in Tuesday's floor final, Wieber could have sulked or hid. Instead she understood the importance in facing adversity better than the aide who, before the first question to Wieber, said, "You don't have to do this if you don't want to."
Wieber did anyway.
The Jordyn rules of gymnastics: No complaints, apologies or excuses.
Asked if stepping out of bounds got inside her head and made it hard to focus the rest of the routine, Wieber answered honestly that it did. She acknowledged struggling mentally with returning to practice last week the day after a flub and a silly rule knocked her out of the individual all-around. She refused to use a stress fracture revealed Tuesday as a reason for her Olympic struggles even if one hometown reporter gave her every opportunity.
"I'm fine, it didn't really bother me too much," said Wieber, who will wear a walking boot for six weeks. "It felt good in warm-ups."
But quickly, things unraveled. After stumbling on her first landing, Wieber bounced a step out of bounds on her second tumbling pass. Immediately she knew. Everybody knew.
When it was over, coach John Geddert consoled Wieber with a hug before she waited expressionless and alone for her scores in front of TV cameras six feet away. Even when the scoreboard finally flashed a bad score of 14.500, Wieber pursed her lips only slightly but stayed otherwise stoic.
"She probably feels unfulfilled," Geddert said.
Fulfillment came for Raisman, who owned the day winning gold on the floor and bronze on the beam. Go ahead and debate whether Raisman or teammate Gabby Douglas — Aly and Gabby — became America's darling during these Games. I remain more intrigued and no less impressed by the U.S. gymnast who supposedly failed.
Cry not for the Wiebers. Jordyn signed with the Wasserman Media Group just before the games and endorsements will come, even if several analysts have projected she lost millions of dollars in London. Perhaps, but nobody can measure the value of what Wieber accomplished and how much that will be worth to a kid about to start her senior year in high school.
Two days after feeling humiliated on the world's biggest sporting stage, Wieber regained her composure to make a major contribution to a team that won the gold medal. She had every reason to lose confidence, every reason to wilt. Instead she delivered.
Long after these Games end, I will remember that about Wieber more than anything else that happened to her here. More than stepping out of bounds twice. More than getting squeezed out of the all-around final by rules I never will understand. More than the call Wieber got from President Obama or the tweets from Oprah and Justin Bieber.
Winning an individual gold medal might have changed Wieber's life. Not winning one could change it as profoundly, in a much different way.
Before Wieber walked away from the arena and America's consciousness for awhile, I asked if she found out anything about herself in the Olympics she didn't know.
"I learned how strong I am," Wieber said.
How can anybody call that a bad trip?
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