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Douglas, Wieber tie in 1st night of gym nationals

Douglas, Wieber tie in 1st night of gym nationals

June 9th, 2012 by NANCY ARMOUR, AP National Writer in News

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A reigning world champion being pushed by her American teammate.

Sound familiar?

Four years after Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson's rivalry captivated the Beijing Olympics, the Americans might have another 1-2 punch. Gabby Douglas pulled off something of a surprise Friday night when she tied world champ Jordyn Wieber atop the standings at the U.S. gymnastics championships. The two finished with 60.650 points, with Aly Raisman 0.45 behind.

The finals are Sunday, and results will help narrow the field for the Olympic trials later this month. The London team will be named July 1 following the trials in San Jose, Calif.

Liukin, meanwhile, has some work to do to make her second Olympic team. The Olympic all-around champion knows if she's going to make the London squad, it will be because of uneven bars, her signature event. But this was her first time competing uneven bars since winning a silver medal on them at the Beijing Games - she and China's He Kexin actually had the same score, but He won the gold on a complex tiebreaker - and the rust clearly showed as she scored a 13.15 with just a 7.35 for execution.

Wieber has lost one - count it, one - all-around competition since the 2008 season, and is considered the heavy favorite for London. But Douglas served notice at the American Cup in March that she was one to watch, too, finishing ahead of Wieber. Her scores didn't count then, because she was competing as an alternate.

On Friday night, she did it again when it counted.

Douglas was something of a surprise when she made last year's world championship squad, with scant international experience and seemingly little stage presence. But she blossomed in the spotlight, and with her bubbly personality and megawatt smile, she's now got some serious star power to go with her skills. Another few performances like these, and the "Flying Squirrel" might very well be the talk of the London Games.

Martha Karolyi gave Douglas the "Flying Squirrel" nickname for her circus-like acrobatics on uneven bars, but even birds could take a few lessons from her these days. She soared so high on her first release, flipping herself up and back over the bar, her legs piked, that she could have reached out and touched her toes before grabbing the bar.

She had the crowd oohing and aahing throughout the routine, and when she hit the mat with a solid thud, she threw up her arms, a big grin exploding across her face. There's more to Douglas than simply uneven bars, though. She turned on the charm with her floor routine, flashing a big smile as she waved her hands on her dance elements. She got such great height on her tumbling runs you could have driven one of those new Fiats beneath her.

She wasn't perfect, though, with several wobbles on balance beam and a big step off the mat on the landing of her vault.

Wieber, meanwhile, had an uncharacteristically rough night, with unsteady performances on both vault and balance beam. She landed her vault with locked knees and needing to take a big step to the right to steady herself. She is usually rock solid on balance beam - she has a bronze medal on it from last year's world championships - but she was all over the place Friday. She wobbled mightily on a back handspring, had to stick her leg out to the side to hang on after a back somersault and took a step on her dismount.

Wieber needed a 15.25 on floor exercise, her final event, to match Douglas and she pulled out all the stops. She had great height on her tumbling runs, but landed them so securely she had to have had sticky tape on the bottoms of her feet. She played to the crowd, smiling as she danced to her peppy music and shimmying her hips, drawing cheers and applause from coach John Geddert. She landed her last tumbling pass without budging an inch, and she and her coaches exchanged high-fives as she came off the floor.

But when the scores came up, she had to share the top spot with somebody else.