US women's gymnasts team with gold medal for the team final. AP file photo.
(Detroit Free Press)- Newly crowned women's world all-around champion gymnast Jordyn Wieber has made a decision that she believes is right for her as she prepares for the spotlight as gold medal favorite for the 2012 London Olympics.
The 16-year-old DeWitt High junior is turning professional.
The decision -- announced this morning on her Facebook page -- means that Wieber will forfeit her eligibility to compete in college. But it also means that, as the world's leading gymnast heading into the Summer Games, she can accept prize money for competitions and other events, such as the post-Olympic tour being planned by USA Gymnastics and AEG Facilities. She can also accept endorsement contracts and other deals.
Last spring, for example, Wieber turned down $16,000 for beating the 2010 world champion Aliya Mustafina of Russia in winning the American Cup.
"My family and I have given a lot of thought to what this means for my future as an athlete," Wieber said in her statement. "Going to college, getting an education and experiencing college life is a very important personal goal for me.
"Right now, I want to make sure that I do everything possible to reach my full potential as an elite athlete for the next few years. With this in mind, I have decided to forgo my collegiate eligibility. My parents and I believe this is best for me, and I am excited about pursuing my Olympic dream for the next nine months. Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement."
Rita Wieber, Jordyn's mother, said they aren't hiring an agent at this time.
"We want to keep her distractions to a minimum as she trains for the Olympics," she said. "In the future, we might look into representation."
Two weeks ago in Tokyo, Wieber vaulted into the spotlight when she became the third American female gymnast since 2007 to win the world individual all-around title. It was Wieber's first senior worlds competition, and she rallied for the victory by defeating Viktoria Komova of Russia by a razor-thin margin of 0.033.
Wieber, the reigning U.S. champion, also helped the U.S. to the team gold medal and won an individual bronze on balance beam.
By turning pro, she follows in the footsteps of Shawn Johnson, who gave up her college eligibility the year before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Johnson became a professional before winning the 2007 world all-around title. In Beijing, she captured the silver medal in the all-around behind her gold-medal winning American teammate Nastia Liukin. Johnson also won an individual gold and silver on the balance beam and floor exercise in China.
But not every world champion trades in a chance to compete in college for the opportunity to make money: Before Wieber, the last American to win the world all-around title was Bridget Sloan, who elected not to turn pro after winning her 2009 title. Sloan signed a national letter of intent with the University of Florida last April but has deferred enrollment until the fall of 2012 to try to make her second-straight Olympic team.
Although she's giving up her collegiate eligibility, Wieber -- who has a 3.94 GPA at DeWitt High -- plans to attend college.
The Olympic movement has allowed pro athletes to compete in the Games for more than 30 years.
Wieber resumed training last week at Gedderts' Twistars USA in Dimondale.
John Geddert, who coaches the gymnast with his wife, Kathryn, said he's supportive of Wieber's decision. Her next competition will likely come in March, when she defends her title at the American Cup at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The U.S. Olympic trials are June 28-July 1 in San Jose, Calif.
"We still need to keep our eye on the prize," Geddert said of the London Games. "I'm supportive of the idea in that Jordyn isn't cut out for college gymnastics. I don't think the 14 weekends in a row doing watered-down gymnastics, that's not what she's all about. When you compete with the best in the world, I don't see her sinking her teeth into that type of situation."
Geddert, who also served as the U.S. women's world team coach in Tokyo, said the excitement level at his two facilities, in Dimondale and nearby DeWitt, is still at a high. The combined enrollment is around 1,000.
"I looked around the gym the other day and I went, 'Wow. Oh, my, God. She's the world champion. In my gym. I coached her. How did that happen?'
"She's the best kid in the world, and she's right here, and I helped her get there. It's very cool."
Contact Jo-Ann Barnas: 313-222-2037 or firstname.lastname@example.org
From the Detroit Free Press