EVERETT — In a nation that has produced a number of elite female gymnasts in recent years, the search is on for America’s next reigning superstar to follow the likes of Mary Lou Retton, Shannon Miller, Carly Patterson, Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson.
Perhaps that young woman is in Everett for this weekend’s Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships, one of the preparatory events for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Sixteen-year-old Jordyn Wieber, the all-around champion from the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, will headline a United States team in its final major international event before the Olympics in late July and early August. The women’s team and all-around finals will be in afternoon and evening sessions at Comcast Arena, with the U.S. taking the floor at 7 p.m.
All eyes likely will be on Wieber, a native of DeWitt, Mich., who was stellar at the World Championships last October.
Against the very best gymnasts from international gymnastics powerhouses like Russia, China and Japan, Wieber won a gold medal in all-around, added another gold medal in the team competition, and tacked on a bronze medal in balance beam for good measure.
It was, Wieber said on Thursday, “such a great experience. It was my first World Championships and basically I wanted to go in there and, first and foremost, help out the team as well as I could. Winning gold with the team was a great way to start everything.
“And then winning the gold medal in the all-around was just a cherry on the top. It was really awesome because all my hard work paid off. I’d worked so hard in training and it was great to have that outcome.”
Wieber arrives at the Pacific Rim Championships just two weeks after winning another all-around title against an international field at the AT&T American Cup in New York.
“This competition (in Everett) is very important, especially for Team USA,” Wieber said. “It’s a big step leading up to the Olympics this summer, so we’re really hoping to come in and have a strong (showing).”
One of those teammates is also one of Wieber’s top competitors. Gabrielle Douglas of Virginia Beach, Va., who is also 16, competed at the recent AT&T American Cup and finished with a higher all-around total than Wieber, but was entered in the event as an alternate and so her score did not count.
The two will go head to head again this weekend, along with several 2011 World Championships participants from other countries who are also in Everett.
For Wieber and the rest, the coming months are a buildup to the Olympics, which is obviously the sport’s international showcase event. And there is plenty of work to be done between now and then, including the all-important U.S. Olympic Trials in late June and early July.
“First of all, Jordyn has to make the (U.S. Olympic) team, and that’s not even a given,” said her coach, John Geddert of Lansing, Mich. “A rolled ankle, a bad landing and you’re off the team. But if everything goes according to plan and she makes the team, I think she’ll be one of the frontrunners (in London).”
What sets Wieber apart, he went on, “is a willingness to do anything it takes to maximize (her) talent. She works harder than any kid I’ve ever seen. She’s relentless in her pursuit to get things as polished, as consistent and as world-class as possible.”
Coming off last fall’s all-around world championship, Wieber is optimistic about the coming months.
“It’s definitely good to have that under my belt,” she said. “It definitely gives me more confidence and motivation back in the gym. But at the same time it’s a new year and there’s a lot of work to do.
“Basically I have to start over and get my routines back to where they were before the World Championships, and then carry that through (the rest of) this year.”