Olympic dream for gymnasts could begin in Consol

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For a teenage gymnast with Olympic aspirations, a lot can go right or wrong in two years’ time.

Take the “Fierce Five,” the U.S. women’s gymnastics team that took gold in the 2012 London Olympics.

If you observed them compete in the 2010 national championship meet in Hartford, Conn., you would not have been convinced they were the girls who would go on to steal America’s heart.

Jordyn Wieber was an afterthought, finishing 42nd in the all-around in the junior (under-16) competition.

Gabby Douglas, who finished fourth, was only 14 and hadn’t yet made the fateful decision to move from Virginia Beach, Va., to West Des Moines, Iowa, to be trained by Liang Chow.

Rebecca Bross, who won the all-around in those 2010 national championships, did not make the 2012 Olympic team.

Cobbled together, these results serve as a warning to the sport’s enthusiasts who will attend the P&G Gymnastics Championships Aug. 21-24 at Consol Energy Center: The next great Olympians, the ones who will be charged with defending team gold in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016, could come from anywhere in the field.

“The reality is the pool of talent is so high,” said Bela Karolyi, the famed Texas-based gymnastics coach whose wife, Marta, is the national team coordinator for USA Gymnastics.

“At the final stage, some of the young ones really grow and step up with a sturdy performance. That’s why Pittsburgh is so important.

“It’s important for us to see what up-and-coming new prospects for the national team are around.”

Karolyi, 71, is known for having trained gymnastics icons Nadia Comaneci of Romania and Mary Lou Retton, Dominique Moceanu and Kerri Strug of the United States.

He made a stop Tuesday in Pittsburgh to promote August’s national championship meet to local gymnastics club owners at a luncheon at Consol Energy Center.

Tickets for the event go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. Friday

USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said the top competitors for Brazil should be in attendance and trying to round into form because Marta Karolyi will want to know who her top options are in time for the 2015 world championships.

He said four of the “Fierce Five” — Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross — are training with an eye on Brazil. Wieber is a student at UCLA and is unlikely to attempt making the team.

Douglas has moved to Los Angeles with her family but is training while pursuing the opportunities that have come with her new celebrity.

If she wants to repeat as Olympic all-around champion in Rio, she will have to contend with Simone Biles, the reigning 2013 all-around national and world champion, and a host of others who will bring their Olympic-sized dreams to Pittsburgh.

“Marta is looking at kids who are 13, 14, 15 and may not even be in the top 10 in juniors, and she’s saying, ‘I know that kid is going to step up,’ ” Penny said. “It’s that grooming process that happens in that two- to three-year period that is very important in our system.

“Our goal is to sustain success at the highest level. But we don’t know if it’s going to be a former Olympian or an up-and-comer. It’s picking out that carbon and turning it into a diamond.”

J. Brady McCollough: bmccollough@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BradyMcCollough.

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