Sounding more like an NFL defensive coordinator, perhaps, than a gymnastics coach, Valeri Liukin praised his protégée Rebecca Bross last Saturday. "She's my dude," he said. "She's as tough as they get." Still, maybe Liukin had it right. Bross pretty much blitzed the competition at the Visa national championships at the XL Center in Hartford. Her winning all-around score of 120.300 points put her a commanding 3.300 points ahead of runner-up Mattie Larson.
It was sweet redemption for the 17-year-old Bross after a 2009 season of both aches and heartache. In October she entered the world championships in London despite having dislocated her left knee and severely spraining her right ankle in the summer. Bross soared to a first-day lead and needed just a clean landing on her final tumbling pass on the floor exercise—a 2½ twisting back flip into a front flip with a half twist—to win the all-around. Instead, she ended on all fours and finished second behind teammate Bridget Sloan. "I can't change that one mistake," Bross said last week. "I know you can't really look back."
It was that keen sense of direction that brought Bross to Plano, Texas, in 2003 to train with Liukin, a former Olympic gold medalist, at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy. She moved with her mother, Donna, but left her dad, Terry, behind in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Bross watched one WOGA gymnast, Carly Patterson, win the Olympic all-around in Athens. Then, in 2008, Nastia Liukin, Valeri's daughter, did the same in Beijing. "I've seen Rebecca train since she was just starting," says Nastia. "Though she wasn't competing in my group, she was always pushing me from behind. Personally we're very similar, no joking around, very down to business, even if our gymnastics is on opposite ends of the spectrum." Though Bross performs her floor exercise to the same song Liukin used in China, Dark Eyes, Liukin is more elegant; Bross is more dynamic.
She entered the meet in Hartford as a heavy favorite, especially with Sloan limited to the balance beam because of a shoulder injury. "Anything less than first for Rebecca would be a step back," said Valeri Liukin. Rather than avoid the tumbling pass that spilled her at the worlds, she added an extra half twist to the end of the run and nailed it on both nights of competition.
Bross's win cements her status in a program that is evolving into a dynasty. "Rebecca is one of the most determined and strongest all-arounders in the world," says Marta Karolyi, the U.S. team coordinator who will select the squad for October's world championships in Rotterdam. "Bet against her and [be] ready for a good fight."
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GOLD Tyson Gay, Track and Field
A week after upsetting Usain Bolt in Stockholm, Gay (below) affirmed his status as 2010's best sprinter, blazing to a win in London last Friday in 9.78 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year.
SILVER Jonathan Horton, Gymnastics
Horton defended his national all-around title in Hartford, rallying in the final two rotations to overtake Danell Leyva. Horton clinched his crown with scores of 16.200 on still rings and 16.050 on vault.
BRONZE David Boudia, Diving
The Beijing Olympian scored 605.40 points to break his own U.S. record in winning the 10-meter platform event last Saturday at the nationals in College Station, Texas. Boudia also teamed with Nick McCrory to win the 10-meter synchro title.
ERICK W. RASCO
DUDE 'TUDE The tough-minded Bross (with Liukin, above, and heels over head in Hartford) beat injuries to put herself among the world's best.