Jordyn Wieber's failure to qualify for the women's gymnastics individual all-around competition broke the United States' traditional pecking order and now threatens to break the team's chemistry.
The U.S. sits in first place in the team standings. The reigning world champions are poised to win the country's second Olympic title, the first since the "Magnificent Seven" first accomplished that feat in 1996.
But internal conflict now stands as the toughest apparatus left to hurdle.
Wieber may not be able to win all-around gold, but she can still prove herself as an individual champion by serving as an even better teammate.
It won't be easy. The challenge is more demanding than any set of uneven bars and fiercer than any Russian or Chinese opponent.
According to Jo-Ann Barnas of the Detroit Free Press, Olympic legend and former U.S. coach Bela Karolyi—who has often compared Wieber to Romania's Nadia Comaneci, a three-time gold medalist and the first woman to score a perfect 10 in the Olympics—is worried.
Karolyi said, "To be honest, I’m afraid. The big anchor of the team is out. I don’t know how she’s going to respond.”
The Americans are a tight-knit group. Wieber, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney talk or message each other every day. Raisman is Wieber's closest friend on the team and her roommate in the Olympic Village. She also knocked the reigning world and national champion out of the Olympic individual all-around finals.
Sunday ended with Raisman crying tears of joy, Wieber crying tears of sorrow and Karolyi criticizing the lineup decisions made by the current U.S. coaches, one of whom is his wife.
According to Wayne Coffey of the New York Daily News, Gabby Douglas didn't know how to react, saying, “It’s definitely a little bit awkward."
Wieber can quickly rip this team apart with selfishness. Choosing selflessness instead, however, would provide a stabilizing force that can boost the Americans to heights the country rarely reaches.
What happened to Wieber is not easy for anyone to handle. Humans don't often react well when life-long dreams are crushed. Finding out that you can't really "do anything you want to if you try hard enough" is a tough pill to swallow, especially when a close friend is feeding it to you.
That's why a selfless reaction from Wieber would be so significant.
Douglas and especially Raisman will be under a critical microscope as they compete for all-around gold. Any mistake will quickly draw an onslaught of speculation as to how the reigning world and U.S. champion would perform if given the chance.
Wieber can easily fuel that fire burning under a new rival. She can also coolly calm her roommate and best friend with support.
As for the team competition, Wieber again faces a similar choice between helping the team or focusing on the distraction of her own failure.
The normal human response here is bitterness. Thinking selfishly is the easy thing for her to do. But selfish bitterness will only destroy friendships and possibly more.
Life is full of disappointments. We are flawed. Our friends and family are flawed. Our teammates and coaches are flawed.
It's a recipe for disaster. The challenge requires much more grace than that which is routinely shown on balance beams in London.
Barnas' story later reports the following quote from John Geddert, who has coached the two-time national champion since she was eight years old: “She hasn’t said a word. She doesn’t talk. She’ll go into her little shell, and it will be awhile before she comes out.”
Wieber, it's time to come out.
It's time to lead your roommate in friendship and your team to victory.
It's time to lead the world in true greatness.
It's time to be a true champion.
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