LONDON — The Americans are making a habit of this 1-2 thing.
Bridget Sloan edged teammate Rebecca Bross for the title at the world gymnastics championships Friday night, just as Nastia Liukin beat Shawn Johnson for the Olympic gold medal last summer in Beijing. And it couldn’t have been closer, with Bross’ fall on her final tumbling pass on floor, the last event, the difference.
Sloan, the lone holdover from the U.S. team that won the silver medal in Beijing, finished with 57.825 points. Bross, competing at her first world championships after turning 16 in July, scored 57.775 points.
Koko Tsurimi gave Japan a rare medal in the women’s all-around, winning the bronze.
When Sloan was introduced as the world champion, Bross gave her such a big hug she practically lifted her older — and much taller — teammate off the ground and onto the podium.
Liukin and Johnson went to Beijing as the overwhelming favorites for gold. With both of them taking breaks from gymnastics, Bross and Sloan came to London with similar expectations. Sloan is the U.S. champion and had made an easy transition from supporting player to star. Bross is the phenom, so talented she finished second at the Pan American Games two years ago — just days after her 14th birthday.
Somewhere, something would have to give. (Yes, Beijing bronze medalist Yang Yilin was here, but she’s not nearly what she was last year after missing several months with a back injury.)
But it took until the very end.
With Valeri Liukin watching and pacing, Sloan performed a gorgeous floor routine. She had great height on her tumbling passes and landed all of them as if she were coming down in a vat of superglue. But what really set her apart was her artistry. Gymnastics officials have changed the rules since Beijing, limiting the number of tumbling runs in hopes of making the event more elegant.
For most girls all that means is they wave their hands around a few times and call it choreography. Sloan actually uses her music, landing her jumps on the beat and striking sultry poses that were the perfect complement to her Bollywood-style music.
Her score of 14.2 was the highest of the night on floor. But Bross had built up such a big lead, she needed only a 12.925 to win.
She had little bobbles here and there, but they weren’t major. But with one last trick to do, she didn’t get the height she needed and nearly landed on her head. The crowd gasped. Bross picked herself up and climbed off the podium, walking quickly to the end of the arena while Sloan stared at the scoreboard.
When the final scores were posted, Sloan immediately went to find Bross and the two exchanged hugs.