SAN JOSE — All year long Martha Karolyi, the women’s national team coordinator, had said that Aly Raisman was exactly the kind of gymnast the Americans needed in London. Rock solid, consistent, unshakable. Everybody had her penciled in for the five-member team for this month’s Games. But until Raisman confirmed it on two evenings here at HP Pavilion, her place wasn’t certain. Now, it is.
“I was really, really emotional, way more than I thought I would be,” the Needham native said Sunday night after she’d been named to the Olympic squad along with Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Gabrielle Douglas, the “Flying Squirrel” who earned the automatic spot by upsetting Wieber, the reigning world and domestic champion, to win the trials by .1 points.
“I thought I would maybe tear up a little bit but I didn’t think I’d hyperventilate like that,” said Raisman. “I couldn’t even breathe. It was such a special moment and I’m so honored and so excited.”
The weekend produced a complete changing of the guard as none of the Beijing silver medalists made the team. Left off the eight-member roster — which includes alternates Elizabeth Price, Anna Li, and Sarah Finnegan — was Winchester native Alicia Sacramone, Raisman’s clubmate who’d made a heroic comeback after tearing an Achilles’ tendon at last year’s global meet but who was bypassed despite a solid showing that included clean vaults and a second-place finish to Raisman on balance beam.
“She’s very upset and it’s normal to be upset like that,” said her coach, Mihai Brestyan, who also directs Raisman. “She didn’t make it by a very small difference, but that’s the committee’s decision. I think she should be there, at minimum an alternate.”
Nastia Liukin’s comeback ended painfully as the Olympic all-around champion fell facefirst midway through her bars routine on an event where she won a silver medal in Beijing and hoped to make the team as a specialist.
“I’m not crying because I didn’t make the team,” said Liukin, who was competing with a damaged shoulder. “It’s just been such an emotional ride. To finish my career with two standing ovations, it’s incredible. I never would have imagined anything like that.”
In the end the three selectors — Karolyi, international elite committee chairman Steve Rybacki, and athlete representative Terin Humphrey — went with four members of last year’s gold-medal team plus Ross, a top performer on bars, the team’s weakest event.
“For a long time this team was in my mind,” said Karolyi. “It is not only based on today’s competition, obviously, but what we observe in training camp, in international competition and what we saw in this last stretch of the Classic, [US] Championship and here. We feel like this is the best composition of the team.”
So it was, too, for the men, three of whom had to sweat it out overnight before the selectors added them to the team along with Danell Leyva and John Orozco, who’d claimed the two automatic spots on Saturday by placing 1-2 in the all-around.
“In 2008, I didn’t have to sit in the room and wait for them to call my name,” Jonathan Horton, the sole Beijing veteran, said after he, Jake Dalton, and Sam Mikulak were tapped. “It feels just as good as before. I’m just excited to be a part of this team.”
Perspiring the most from Saturday night into Sunday morning was Mikulak, the Michigan undergrad who sprained an ankle during Thursday’s competition and was limited to the pommel horse in the finale.
He could have petitioned directly onto the team and hoped that the selectors would allow him to prove his competitive readiness at next week’s camp in Colorado Springs. But Mikulak preferred to show that he was capable of handling an event where the squad needs help and his performances at the nationals and in the opening session here, which he won, were enough to have his name announced.
The other choices were more clear. Horton, the Olympic silver medalist on high bar, was best on still rings and second on parallel bars and Dalton was top gun on floor and vault. “We knew all along it was going to be difficult to select this team because of our depth,” said national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika. “It wasn’t easy, but I think we have selected a team that is going to go to London and vie for a gold medal.”
Waiting in the wings are alternates Chris Brooks, Steven Legendre, and Alexander Naddour, who’ll go to camp and keep training just in case. “Almost anything can happen to anyone, even the best,” reckoned Brooks, who’d tied Dalton for fourth in the all-around competition.
Four years ago alternates Alexander Artemev and Raj Bhavsar both ended up competing in the Games after twins Paul and Morgan Hamm withdrew with injuries and they went on to earn bronze medals. “We just have to keep training just as hard in case something happens,” said Naddour. “Hopefully it doesn’t but in case something does we’ll be there.”