Shawn. Nastia. Mary Lou. And with a few more nights like last night, maybe we’ll know America’s newest national champion simply as Bridget.
Bridget Sloan put her name up there with the stars of American gymnastics in Dallas, winning a national championship in a come-from-behind effort that was as much about her unrelenting tenacity as her surprising grace.
The 17-year-old, 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 with seven straight solid routines after that.
Sloan finished with 117.55 points to beat out Hong by .3 and Bross by .95. And while she still has a lot to prove, she will certainly no longer be overlooked.
“In 2007, I was the kid nobody knew about, the up-and-comer,’’ she said. “After the Olympics, everyone knew me and that was really cool. This year, I feel like a completely new person.’’
The top three all closed the night on vault with the exact same jump - a laid-out flip with two twists - and though Bross’s and Hong’s were better, they weren’t enough to overcome the .55-point lead Sloan built through the floor exercise.
It was quite a startling comeback after the fall on beam netted a score of 13.95 and dropped her far behind.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do after I fell,’’ she said. “I didn’t think about winning whatsoever.’’
Before Sloan capped her comeback, 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, .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 seeking 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 near Dallas, the gym that has produced the last two Olympic champions - Liukin and Carly Patterson.
Also in the hunt will be Samantha Peszek, who didn’t compete in the all-around to protect an injured shoulder. Still, of the six scores of 15-plus that were given out this week on events other than vault (which always scores higher), she earned two of them.
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 is rounding back into form after injuries. Hong’s ankle injury kept her off the Olympic team last year.
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.
“To come back from the Olympics and win nationals, that’s not easy,’’ Liukin said.
Twelve-year-old Kyla Ross won the junior national title, a victory that sets her up as one of the young women to watch for the next four years.
Just don’t expect to see her much.
Ross will turn 16 in 2012 and be eligible for the London Olympics, but a new international rule will prevent her from competing in senior events until that year. That means she’ll still be a junior in 2011, which will prevent her from competing at the very important world championships that precede the Games.
For comparison’s sake, Johnson was 15 in 2007 and she got to compete at worlds, where she won the all-around title. Patterson was 15 in 2003, finished second at worlds, and won the Olympic gold medal in 2004.
“I don’t like it,’’ Karolyi said. “The girls are more than capable of competing at that level at 15.’’