SAN JOSE — These Olympic trials are not the same trials that the swimmers are having in Omaha or the track and field people in Eugene, Ore., where the top two or three get tickets to London next month. Only the woman atop the gymnastics standings after two nights of competition at HP Pavilion is guaranteed a trip across The Pond. Everybody else will be picked behind closed doors Sunday night before NBC turns off its cameras.
If that doesn’t seem to allow much time for deliberation, it’s because these trials essentially have been going on since before last autumn’s world championships in Tokyo.
“The decision is not made in one competition,” said national team director Martha Karolyi, who’s one of the three selectors — not including Darwin.
The trials are about survival of the fittest as the Class of 2008, the Beijing team silver medalists, has found out to its dismay. Shawn Johnson never recovered from tearing up a knee skiing on her 18th birthday and called it a career before the national championships this month. Nastia Liukin, the Olympic all-around champion, landed on her bottom in the uneven bars Friday night. And Bridget Sloan, who was world titlist three years ago, withdrew after spraining her left elbow upon landing on her bars warm-up.
“It was hard to accept, but at the same time it was meant for me to be done,” said Sloan, who’ll move on to compete for the University of Florida. “I had a great career and a great run. I’ll be OK.”
The Beijing veteran with the best chance is Alicia Sacramone, who was written off in some quarters after tearing an Achilles’ tendon at last year’s global meet. Since she’s doing only two events here, she needs to be top three in both to have a chance of being picked.
“I need to compete well two days in a row and I’ve got to show medal contention on vault and beam,” said the Winchester native. “That’s the only thing I can do. They know my past, they know how I compete. I just need to show that my Achilles’ is good, my body’s good, and that I’d be able to handle another competition.”
So Sacramone did two vaults last night to indicate that she could be a contender in the event final in London, and turned in solid scores of 15.700 and 15.375. Then, despite a slight wobble, she finished third on balance beam with a 15.000.
“I showed them I can do it, that I have both my vaults back,” said Sacramone, who ended up sixth on that event.
So far fortune is favoring last year’s gilded bunch, which could place four athletes on the team. Jordyn Wieber, the Tokyo all-around champion who retained her US crown, is in the lead with 61.700 points, .3 ahead of Gabrielle Douglas.
Sitting in third, more than a point behind, is Needham native Aly Raisman, who won on floor.
“I wanted to hit all my routines and be consistent as much as possible,” said Raisman, who has 15-year-old powerhouse Elizabeth Price on her heels.
Wieber, Douglas, and Raisman figure to make the London roster, along with McKayla Maroney, the world titlist on the apparatus who has recovered from the concussion and nasal fracture that she sustained at the nationals and posted the best score of the night (16.100) on any apparatus. So the fifth spot likely will come down to Sacramone, Price, and 15-year-old Kyla Ross, who was best on bars.
“Very honestly I have one ideal team in my head,” said Karolyi. “I have a lot of alternate situations — if that, and, if that. Possibly several of those.”
These trials are about final elimination of variables. By Sunday night, the math might indeed take only a couple of minutes.