Jun 10, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; Kyla Ross (USA) competes on the balance beam during day two of the 2012 Visa Championships in womens gymnastics at Chaifetz Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE
LONDON - It is a rare Olympic occurrence indeed to see the breakout star of the Games, the women's gymnastics individual all-around gold medalist, dangling from the underside of the balance beam, her foot having slipped, holding on for dear life.
Just as unusual is watching the reigning world champion, the star of the sport coming into the Games, leaving them with a final seventh-place finish on the floor exercise and her coach grumbling she might have a stress fracture somewhere on her lower leg - asked which one, he said "right or left" - even though she said she was "fine."
Ah, gymnastics, the figure skating of the Summer Games. It never disappoints.
It was the USA's Gabby Douglas who ingloriously found herself on the wrong side of the balance beam on the final day of artistic gymnastics competition, finishing her Olympic Games by placing last - eighth of eight - on the uneven bars Monday, then finishing seventh on the beam Tuesday.
"I'm really disappointed in that performance," Douglas said. "It could have been a little better, but mentally I'm tired. ... It wasn't my day to shine."
No, that was last Thursday, when Douglas won the only individual gymnastics title that really matters here, the one that has put her on a first-name basis with the American public and could keep her there for the rest of her life, as it has for Nadia and Mary Lou before her.
So while we almost never see the all-around champion blow up so quickly in the individual apparatus finals, it's also true that it doesn't matter one bit. Douglas already has the greatest prize to be won in her sport in London, plus the second-greatest: the women's team title, which she shares with her four U.S. teammates. She's the first American to win both. She's already on the Kellogg's Corn Flakes box, and you have to believe more boxes are in her future. A couple of bad routines on the bars and beam will never change that.
"Overall, I'm going home with two gold medals, so I'm very happy," she said, sounding much older and wiser than anyone should at 16. "Overall, it's been a good journey for me."
If anything, her poor performances the past two days illustrated just how big of a deal the individual all-around title is. To celebrate winning it these days becomes one massive distraction.
"I think it was overwhelming winning the title, which is the dream of any gymnast, and all the attention that was given to her and all the media and everything," U.S. national team coordinator Marta Karolyi said. "She's a young girl, and she wasn't even in the limelight before. So it was too much too quick and she wasn't able to focus the same after the all-around, unfortunately, but we are human beings."
Douglas is headed home for parades and appearances, which is what Jordyn Wieber envisioned until she failed to qualify for the all-around final. She was a vital member of the team as it won its gold medal, but she was nowhere near the top of her game Tuesday, looking nervous as she stepped out of bounds on the floor exercise in her first chance to compete in London in a full week.
But it was after the event, when her coach, John Geddert, met with reporters, that things got most interesting. He said he was "not making excuses," but then went on to make all kinds of excuses.
He said Wieber might have a "stress fracture" on her heel, or ankle, or fibula, which could also be described as her shin. This is one coach who is definitely covering his bases. Asked which leg, he said it was one or the other, but word soon came that it was her right. "She's got six weeks in a boot," he declared.
However, no MRI had been done on Wieber. Perhaps because of that, she took the high road that her coach did not, saying her lower right leg was "fine ... it didn't really bother me too much."
Karolyi said she thought Wieber was fine as well, adding that everyone has some ailment or other at the end of the Olympics, but they all admirably work through it.
We will find out soon if Wieber is truly injured. For now, though, her pain came from knowing that the Olympic glory she had hoped for went almost exclusively to someone else. And that is what has to hurt most of all.
Christine Brennan, USA TODAY