Bridget Sloan Wins U.S. Gymnastics Championship

Texas tumblers take second and third place

By EDDIE PELLS
|  Sunday, Aug 16, 2009  |  Updated 4:22 PM CDT
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The Next Nastia

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Bridget Sloan competes on the beam during day four of the Visa Gymnastics Championships at the American Airlines Arena on August 15, 2009 in Dallas, Texas.

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It will be hard to overlook Bridget Sloan anymore. A national title can do that for a woman.

The 17-year-old from Indianapolis took her spot alongside the greatest names in American gymnastics Saturday, winning U.S. championships in a come-from-behind effort that was as much about her unrelenting tenacity as her surprising grace.

Sloan, a member of last year's Olympic silver-medal team, opened the meet in a hole after falling off the balance beam on her first routine Thursday, but overcame Ivana Hong and Rebecca Bross, who both train in North Texas, with seven straight solid routines after that.

She finished with 117.55 points to beat out Hong by 0.3 and Bross by 0.95.

"It's what I always wanted to do forever, to be able to put on a big show for everyone, it's awesome," Sloan said.

The top three all closed the night on vault with the exact same jump -- a laid-out flip with two twists -- and though Bross' and Hong's were better, they weren't enough to overcome the 0.55-point lead Sloan built through the floor exercise.

Defending Olympic champion Nastia Liukin reprised her beam routine from Thursday night with a better result, eliminating some wobbles and tentativeness to score a 14.7, 0.25 better than in her debut. She is rounding into shape after taking most of the year off.

Liukin and Sloan are both favorites to be on the four-woman team that heads to London for world championships in October. Liukin is trying to win her 10th worlds medal to surpass Shannon Miller as the most decorated American gymnast in history.

"She has some things that aren't where they usually are," national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. "But with two more months, she should be able to accomplish it."

Other choices won't be as easy, though Hong and Bross are both squarely in the mix. Both train with Liukin at World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Plano, the gym that has produced the last two Olympic champions -- Liukin and Carly Patterson.

Bross came into the day with the lead, but the 16-year-old lost her grip with one of her hands on the opening uneven bars routine, then fell completely off moments later.

"I wasn't really nervous. It was just one of those things that happened," she said.

Those mistakes put Hong in the lead briefly and she made her way through a clean night of gymnastics, but not as high-flying as Sloan's.

Still, this wasn't a bad night for Bross or Hong, each of whom are rounding back into form after injuries. Hong's ankle injury kept her off the Olympic team last year. She was vying for the final spot, which went to Sloan.

Sloan said she's never shied from the underdog role that naturally came competing on a team with Liukin, Shawn Johnson, a showwoman like Alicia Sacramone and the rest.

"My name wasn't really known until last summer at the Olympics," Sloan said. "I know that. But that's OK."

She has a big fan in Karolyi, who thinks her long lines and graceful precision will play well with international judges. She has also become more consistent than when she was 15 and just getting into the mix. That consistency earned her the spot on the Olympic team.

"In 2007, she was a little timid and would get nervous. But this is a different Bridget," Karolyi said. "The exact lines, the preciseness. She needs to add a few extra things, but I'm happy with this."

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