NEW WAVERLY, Texas -- Bridget Sloan sat next to Jana Bieger. One huge smile on the right. Two teary eyes on the left.
Sloan, 16, recovered from March knee surgery with pizazz and steady improvement and earned her spot on the 2008 U.S. women's gymnastics team with a sparkling vault Saturday night and competent work on the uneven bars.
Bieger, 18, has gone from 2006 all-around world championship silver medalist to the most painful place -- an Olympic team alternate. Two nights in a row, Friday and Saturday, when her nerves needed to be steadiest, Bieger fell on the same release move on the uneven bars.
The consecutive falls probably cost Bieger a starting spot, according to national team coordinator Martha Karolyi. The U.S. team that will try to repeat its 2007 world championship and beat co-favorite China in Beijing will be:
Shawn Johnson, 16, of West Des Moines, Iowa, who is defending all-around world champion and who won both the 2008 U.S. nationals and the Olympic trials; Nastia Liukin, 18, of Parker, Texas, who has nine world championship medals; a pair of 20-year-olds, Chellsie Memmel of West Allis, Wis., who was 2005 world all-around champion, and Alicia Sacramone of Winchester, Mass., who won a world silver floor exercise medal and bronze vault medal in 2007; and a pair of 16-year-olds, Sloan, of Pittsboro, Ind., and Samantha Peszek of Indianapolis.
Named as head coach was Liang Chow, Johnson's personal coach who was once a member of the Chinese national gymnastics team. The alternates were Bieger, 15-year-old Ivana Hong of Laguna Hills, who was a member of last year's U.S. world championship team, and 16-year-old Corrie Lothrop of Gaithersburg, Md.
"This is the strongest team we could pick," Karolyi said. "But it was hard. I was tearing up; my voice was choking out the words. This is the hardest part of the job because it's been 10 years of hard work for some girls and you're ending that dream."
Bieger's disappointment was painful to witness. She sat in a corner after her Saturday fall, staring at nothing. An hour after the team was named, Bieger's mother and coach, Andrea, cried as selection committee member and former gymnast Kristie Phillips said, "If there's anything I can do for you, just call. Please, just call." Andrea Bieger didn't say a word.
Saturday night's routines provided the final moments of suspense in a process that had started almost two months ago with two rounds of routines at the national championships in Boston and two more rounds at the Olympic trials in Philadelphia.
After the trials in Philadelphia, only Johnson and Liukin had clinched Olympic spots.
Memmel, Sacramone and Peszek were considered strong favorites for three other spots. Memmel had finished third at both the nationals and Olympic trials while Sacramone kept proving her value on vault and Peszek had finished a sturdy fourth at nationals and the trials.
That left one more spot up for grabs as 12 girls gathered here, where they've come nearly every month for the last three years for team training.
"I was looking to see the girls who would be the steadiest under this pressure," Karolyi said. "Pretty much we know five spots and there were three girls for the final spot. For Jana it was unfortunate she fell two days in a row. For Ivana, I would have wanted to see more confidence and more authority."
Besides the mental stress of trying to make the powerhouse team, there was also physical stress.
Shayla Worley, who had been national all-around silver medalist last year, suffered a broken leg while warming up on balance beam Friday. Mattie Larson of Los Angeles, the 16-year-old who made her senior level debut this year, competed Friday and Saturday with what her mother Gail said was probably a stress fracture in her leg.
Memmel had hurt her neck during Friday's floor exercise and sat out two events including uneven bars, the weakest event for the U.S.
Andy Memmel, Chellsie's father and coach, said Karolyi had told him that even though Chellsie had done so well up until now, she still wanted to see an uneven bars routine Saturday, sore neck or not. So Memmel did the set and scored a 15.900, second-best of the night.
While Bieger said she had hoped her uneven bars work at other meets this year would have held more weight, Hong's coach, Al Fong, said this prolonged process had resulted in the correct decisions.
"At this moment these are the best six girls," Fong said. "You have to be able to do it under the pressure."
The U.S. team
Members of the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team:
* Shawn Johnson, 16, W. Des Moines, Iowa
* Nastia Liukin, 18, Parker, Texas
* Chellsie Memmel, 20, West Allis, Wis.
* Samantha Peszek, 16, Indianapolis
* Alicia Sacramone, 20, Winchester, Mass.
* Bridget Sloan, 16, Pittsboro, Ind.
* Jana Bieger, 18, Coconut Creek, Fla.
* Ivana Hong, 15, Laguna Hills
* Corrie Lothrop, 16, Gaithersburg, Md.
Source: USA Gymnastics