ST. PAUL, Minn. -- All-around favorite Jordyn Wieber didn't have a perfect meet at Thursday night's Visa National Championships, but she did well enough to lead after day one of the competition.
Wieber started with a wobbly beam routine, but bounced back on the next two events, nailing her opening double-twisting double tuck on floor to huge applause, and nearly sticking her Amanar (Yurchenko 2.5 twist) vault. A long wait before the judges' signal to start on bars appeared to unnerve her, though. She struggled on a pirouette early on, and landed low on her tucked double-double dismount.
Not surprisingly, Wieber pinpointed bars and beam as areas for improvement in the finals on Saturday: "I'm hoping to get the jitters out. I've been practicing some really good routines on those events in workouts, so hopefully I can translate that to the second day [of competition]."
Jitters didn't affect Wieber alone, though. Falls marred the competition, and some of Wieber's biggest all-around rivals had multiple mistakes. Defending champion Rebecca Bross slipped off on a reverse hecht release move early in her bar routine, then had two falls on beam in the next rotation. She had the second highest score of the day on floor (14.85), and managed to land her vault even after crashing it in warm-ups, but still ended in fourth overall. Bross sat stone-faced on the sidelines after the meet, unable to hide her disappointment. "You can't dwell on the past, you can't change what happened. You just try to fix what happened." A few minutes later, world teammate Bridget Sloan – not competing here due to a bicep injury—offered Bross a hug, and finally got her to crack a smile.
Newcomers McKayla Maroney, Sabrina Vega and Gabrielle Douglas all had the potential to challenge Wieber, but each had falls throughout the day as well, and finished fifth, eighth, and 12th, respectively. Still, there were highlights: Maroney tied Wieber for the top vault score of the day (15.8), and Douglas' bar routine in particular was fun to watch – with one of the highest reverse hecht releases of the meet. Douglas trains alongside 2008 Olympian Shawn Johnson, and asks her every day what the Olympic experience was like. "I want to know everything. What they ate, how they trained, everything!"
For the most part, Johnson and her Olympic teammates, Chellsie Memmel and Alicia Sacramone, excelled. They showed their competitive toughness on beam especially, finishing in the top three spots on that event. Memmel is still upgrading on bars and vault, but tumbled as well as ever on floor and beam, and sits in third in the all-around. Johnson has upped her game substantially since the CoverGirl Classic qualifier to nationals. She added a Yurchenko double full vault here, and competed solid bars and beam routines as well. "I'm satisfied for today," she said after, "but the goal is to keep getting better." Sacramone fell to her back on a back 2.5 to punch layout on floor, but her vault (front handspring rudi) was sky-high, and the third best score of the day (15.75).
Worlds veteran Alexandra Raisman was one of the few gymnasts to hit all four events today. She took out the Amanar vault that had troubled her in warm-ups and her strategy paid off: she's second all-around after tonight. Anna Li, a UCLA graduate, earned the highest score of the day on bars with a gorgeous hop full and full-twisting reverse hecht.
Today's scores will be added to Saturday's to determine the 2011 national champion. Right now, all signs point to Wieber.