Jordyn Wieber wins world all-around title

TOKYO -- Jordyn Wieber lived up to the hype, becoming the world all-around champion Thursday at the 2011 world gymnastics championships. But it came down to the final tumbling pass of the final routine, and even then it was not instantly apparent the U.S. champion had won the meet.

A mistake on uneven bars left Wieber trailing Russia's Viktoria Komova by about half a point -- no small amount -- going into the fourth rotation of the all-around final. Komova had been nearly flawless through three events, though she left out some difficulty to protect a sore ankle. Komova, ranked first in qualifying, went last on floor and had the opportunity to win it all. But she did not perform with her usual confidence, looking hesitant and nearly stumbling on her final tumbling pass to leave her victory in question.

"It was definitely a little nerve-wracking," Wieber said of waiting for Komova's score. Komova was awarded a 14.333 on floor, giving Wieber the world title by 0.033 -- a razor-thin margin. The 16-year-old from DeWitt, Mich., could hardly believe one of her lifelong dreams had finally come true and burst into tears when she saw the scoreboard.

"I wasn't sure how things were going to turn out, but they turned out amazing," said Wieber, who led the U.S. team to gold two nights earlier. "I wasn't expecting to see my name on the top, and when I did I was just so overwhelmed and excited."

Wieber's win is controversial, given that she made two visible errors (an overarched handstand on a release to the low bar, and a step out of bounds on floor) while Komova appeared not to make any major mistakes. But the difficulty of Wieber's routines compared to Komova's -- particularly on vault, where Wieber's Amanar (a two-and-a-half twisting Yurchenko) gives her a 0.7 advantage to Komova's double-twisting Yurchenko -- helped make the difference. (More on how the current scoring system values high difficulty, and why this is hurting the athletes).

"Jordyn is such a strong person," said team coordinator Martha Karolyi, grinning broadly after the meet. "Most people get very disappointed and distracted by a mistake, but she didn't. She went and did a nearly perfect beam routine and an excellent floor and I think the right thing happened -- she won the competition."

As expected, Wieber and Komova outdistanced themselves from the rest of the pack, most of whom had major errors. Even China's Yao Jinnan, who came in third on the strength of excellent performances on bars and floor, was not immune, falling from the balance beam on a tumbling series. Others who seemed in contention for bronze, including Russia's Ksenia Afanasyeva, China's Huang Qiushuang and American Alexandra Raisman, recorded falls on the uneven bars or balance beam.

Like Wieber, Komova is performing in her first world championships. Like Wieber, she is 16 and chose a pink leotard with black details to wear for the all-around final. But there the similarities end. Komova, who danced to a techno remix of "Swan Lake" on floor, is balletic and dainty. Wieber, who opted for Ruslana's "Wild Dances," takes a far more powerful approach to gymnastics. And while Wieber showed no hesitation about throwing in high difficulty skills, Komova appeared increasingly cautious as the meet went on.

Afterward, a tired-looking Komova said through an interpreter that she was "very upset" with her result, but added, "It's OK. I will prepare for the Olympic Games."

Wieber becomes only the sixth female U.S. gymnast to win the world all-around title, joining a lexicon of American greats that includes Kim Zmeskal, Shannon Miller, Chellsie Memmel, Shawn Johnson and Bridget Sloan. Those five all own at least one Olympic medal, and with the world title, Wieber becomes one of the favorites for gold at next summer's Olympic Games.

Not that she's thinking that far ahead yet. "I have to go back and work even harder, put a lot of time in the gym and, most important, stay healthy just to be able to make the Olympic team," she said.

Wieber's coach, John Geddert, said that while he is delighted by the victory, there is more work to be done if his protégé is to challenge for the all-around gold in London. Although she did not do it at this competition, Komova is capable of doing the same Amanar vault Wieber showed, which would narrow Wieber's difficulty advantage considerably. Just because Wieber won the world title does not mean that she can't be the hunter going into 2012.

"I always like to set a rabbit out in front of her, and we still have rabbits out there," Geddert said. "Komova's a good person to be chasing. Just because you beat her by less than a tenth doesn't mean you can't still chase her. We have some improving to do. [2010 world champion Aliya] Mustafina's out there, and there's a couple USA athletes coming on very strong. We have work to do."

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