New Olympics selection process for gymnasts? They're OK with it

DALLAS -- On the topics of the best song to warm up to (Eminem's "Lose Yourself" for 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin; "Boyfriend" by Justin Bieber for 17-year-old Aly Raisman), what college to attend (NYU for Nastia; Stanford or Vanderbilt for 2008 all-around silver medalist Shawn Johnson) or what they're most looking forward to in London, the women vying for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympics gymnastics team didn't agree on much. But there was one topic that brought them to a consensus: naming the Olympics team at the end of trials is a good thing.

"It's easier on our bodies to not have the selection camps," said 2011 world champion Jordyn Wieber, who is making her first run at the Olympics. "Doing routines for such a long time can be tough on your body. We'll be able to go to camp and train instead of going to camp to compete. There's a difference. And it will be nice to get it done at trials and know who's on the team."

Unlike in recent years, the five-woman team -- down from six in 2008 and 2004 -- will be named on the final day of trials, which will be held June 28-July 1 in San Jose, Calif., instead of after a post-trials, two-week selection camp held at the Karolyi ranch outside Houston. In 2008, Johnson and Liukin finished 1-2 at trials, were invited to the selection camp and named to the Olympic team with the disclaimer that they still had to prove their readiness during the camps. Instead of spending the weeks between trials and the Olympics tweaking routines, resting, rehabbing injuries and tapering training, the 12 women invited to the selection camp competed for those six spots.

"The selection process in 2008 was the longest, most stressful process of my life, and I felt like I was run into the ground," Johnson said. "After trials, I was like, 'Ahh, I made the team. Oh wait, no I didn't. I still have to compete.' This way, it will preserve me more and hopefully do the same for the entire team. It's one less meet you have to be on your A-game for. If you look back at 2008, our entire team was at its strongest at trials and then we slowly started to break down. I think they learned from 2008, and this time, I think we will peak at the right time."

At the 2008 Games, Chellsie Memmel broke her ankle during training in Beijing. A few days later, Samantha Peszek injured her ankle minutes before the women's qualifier and was able to compete only on the uneven bars. The team was highly favored for the team all-around but finished second to China. The additional mental and physical stress of those selection camps was often cited as a reason for the team's struggles in Beijing.

"This way is better for us for being in our top shape," said Rebecca Bross, who will be competing 10 months after dislocating her kneecap at the Visa Championships in August. "More importance will be placed on trials. I like going out to competitions better than selection camps. At selection camps, it's only us in the gym, but at a meet, you have the whole crowd there and people cheering you on. It's what we're used to doing."

Although the team will be named earlier, the selection process will still be based on subjective measures. The selection committee will choose the team based on a combination of competitive performance, team needs, medal potential, the composite strength of all team members, individual start values, consistency, attitude and competitive readiness.

"They're not just taking the top five in the all-around," Liukin said. "It really is a puzzle, and hopefully they'll pick the best team to win a gold medal. With my two strongest events, bars and beam, I hope I can play a role to help the team, but besides my gymnastics, I have a few things going for me -- but I can't rely on them. That is no way to make an Olympic team. Living in Dallas, everywhere I go, people are like, 'You won the gold medal. You have to make this team.' But that's not how it works. Your past accomplishments don't matter. All that matters is how you perform today."