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Now the fun begins: Picking a team for worlds

SHARE Now the fun begins: Picking a team for worlds

ST. PAUL, Minn. — ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Americans have a woman who can contend for the world title in Jordyn Wieber.

Good thing, because two months before the world championships, the rest of the squad is a bit of a mess.

Rebecca Bross' status is uncertain after she dislocated her kneecap. Chellsie Memmel's troublesome shoulder acted up again. And almost all of the top women had some kind of meltdown at the U.S. gymnastics championships.

"I'm not a person who freaks out in a hard situation and it's not the first time in my coaching career," national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said after Saturday night's finals. "We will do the very best that's possible in a tough situation."

Next to the Olympics, this year's world championships are the biggest event in gymnastics. They're the main qualifier for next summer's games, with the top eight teams earning spots in London. They're also the chance to make a good impression on the judges — no small thing in a sport where reputation matters.

Worlds are Oct. 7-16 in Tokyo.

While the U.S. men named their world team here, 11 women will head to the Karolyi ranch in Houston next month for a selection camp. Wieber is a lock and Alicia Sacramone likely is, too, but the rest of the six-woman team will depend, in large part, on Bross.

Bross has won six medals at the last two world championships, including back-to-back medals on uneven bars, the Americans' weakest event. But nationals was her first meet since having ankle surgery in November, and she looked off even before she jammed her knee on her vault landing.

"Mentally she was not as tough during this whole competition as she used to be before," Karolyi said.

If Bross can't compete at worlds, it scrambles the entire team lineup.

Because the format for team finals is unforgiving, with three gymnasts competing on each apparatus and all three scores counting, Karolyi has to put together a team that can put up monster scores on every event. Wieber can be counted on for every event, while Sacramone has gold medals from worlds on vault and floor. She also won the beam title Saturday night.

But Sacramone doesn't do uneven bars. It's not the strong suit of McKayla Maroney or Aly Raisman, who finished second and third in the all-around, either. So if those three join Wieber on the team, Karolyi's other two picks will have to be big on bars — and contribute elsewhere because Bross likely would have been used on balance beam and floor, too.

Mackenzie Caquatto finished second to Wieber on bars, but was in the top 10 in just one other event, floor exercise. Memmel would seem like a good fit, provided her shoulder is OK. She's a former world champion on bars and had the second-highest score on beam, and Karolyi loves the 2008 Olympian's consistency when the pressure is on.

"It'll be sore for a couple of days but it'll be fine," Memmel said of her shoulder.

Shawn Johnson also could be a possibility. The Olympic gold medalist only returned to competition last month after a two-year layoff and a devastating knee injury, but she's gaining confidence with every routine she does and the improvement is noticeable. She was sixth on bars and fourth on beam, and is working on other skills that would increase her difficulty.

"With each routine I get to compete, I feel more like my old self," said Johnson, the 2007 world champion. "I think it will only go up from here."

While figuring out the rest of the team may give Karolyi a headache, at least she can rely on Wieber. The 16-year-old won her first national title with a display so overwhelming that the rest of the world is sure to take note. She finished a whopping 6.15 points ahead of Maroney, a margin so big Wieber almost could have skipped half of an event and still won the title.

After a wobbly performance on beam, her first event on the first night of competition, Wieber was flawless. Her routines were jam-packed with difficulty, yet she did them with an elegance and flair few gymnasts possess. And she showed the same kind of steely composure she did in beating world champion Aliya Mustafina at the American Cup in March.

"Jordyn proved herself. She is a strong person physically and mentally," Karolyi said. "I said before the competition that I would be surprised if she did not perform good at these championships and I was right. It was a very good performance."