Another perfect evening leaves Bross with national gymnastics title

By Eddie Pells, AP
Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bross the boss, and the champion, at US nationals

HARTFORD, Conn. — For smiles and sparkles, there are other places in the arena to look.

For a powerful performance that will simply knock your socks off — that’s where Rebecca Bross fits in.

Refusing to fall or falter, Bross charged her way through another impressive night of gymnastics Saturday, winning the national title in a runaway over Mattie Larson.

The 17-year-old coached by Olympic champion Nastia Liukin’s father, Valeri, scored 120.3 points to outdistance Larson by the wide margin of 3.3.

Bross went through finals without a fall, making her 8 for 8 for the two-day meet and answering one of the few questions left about America’s top up-and-comer: Could she close out a major meet, after letting leads at last year’s nationals and worlds slip?

The answer: A resounding yes. All business when she’s on the equipment, she finally let her guard down when she completed her final routine, slapping the sides of her legs, jumping off the podium, then folding into Valeri Liukin’s embrace like a rag doll.

Happy and relieved.

“The whole competition is finally over,” she said. “I made all my routines. I was really happy I was done and I did what I hoped to.”

Bross figures to be the headliner on the team heading to world championships this fall, where pecking orders will start forming for the London Olympics, which are less than two years away.

Also in the mix for 2012 is Alicia Sacramone, a key part of the 2008 team who is on the comeback and had her second straight solid night. She scored 14.95 on her beam routine — improving by 0.1 over Thursday — and had vaults of 15.7 and 15.325 to wrap up the gold medal on that event.

“I think it went better than I expected,” Sacramone said.

Last year’s world and national champion, Bridget Sloan, scored 13.85 on balance beam, her only routine of the night because of injuries to her ankle and shoulder. It was 0.7 better than Thursday, when she fell early in the routine. But this was a hesitant, wobbly set of tricks that she’ll need to clean up before heading to team coordinator Martha Karolyi’s worlds selection camp next month.

“Competing one event, I am not a fan,” Sloan said. “I had a really hard time out there. It makes me realize how important it is to have all four events.”

Bross, meanwhile, had all four and didn’t give the judges much to quibble with. That made a lot of people happy — most notably, Karolyi.

“It seems like until now, she just made one mistake at every meet,” Karolyi said. “She was excellent, but somehow, unfortunately. … But finally, she showed the maturity and the confidence in herself. She looked very well-prepared.”

Bross will not be confused with Nastia Liukin, the gymnast who sets the bar both at her own gym and around the world, and is still deciding whether to make a run at 2012.

Liukin is tall and long and makes the tough tricks look effortless.

Bross is more compact, has power that reminds people more of 2004 Olympic champion Carly Patterson — yet another athlete from Liukin’s gym — and may not take over the arena when she’s on the equipment but certainly has the judges’ attention.

Bross says it’s just a fluke that she chose a different version of the same song Nastia used for her floor routine — “Dark Eyes” — but maybe it’s fitting. Same song, different rendition. Where Liukin’s every landing was butter soft, Bross plants those feet into the mat. Where Liukin’s every twist looked like a ballerina’s, Bross gets down on the floor, pulls her left leg tautly, all the way above her left shoulder, and seems to say, ‘Hey, betcha couldn’t do this.’

“Every gymnast is different and I don’t think you can single out one type of gymnast who can be a world champion,” Karolyi said. “We cannot ask everyone to be Nastia.”

The runner-up, Larson, is a contrast to Bross, with a hip-shaking number on the floor that gets the crowd clapping in rhythm. Her tricks aren’t as difficult and she’s not quite as polished yet, though she could make part of a nice compare-and-contrast exercise with Bross if the two stay on the road they’re on.

Like Bross, Larson stayed up on all eight of her routines this week.

“My coaches told me if I did that, I could finish in the top three,” Larson said. “That’s what happened, and I’m happy.”

Nobody, though, was better than Bross, the gymnast affectionately called “Dude” by her coach.

Earlier in the week, Liukin said Bross had the skills to win and everyone in their gym knew there was only one place that would make her feel totally satisfied.


And guess what, dude? She got it.

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