Sacramone solid in return from torn Achilles

Associated Press  |  Last updated June 08, 2012
Alicia Sacramone understands the skepticism. Gymnasts who tear an Achilles as the captain of the 2008 U.S. women's Olympic team did last October aren't supposed to come back in eight months. ''I would have been like, `Oh, you tore your Achilles when? Good luck with that,'' Sacramone said. Turns out, luck was hardly required. Sacramone posted solid scores on both beam and vault in her return to competition at the U.S. championships on Friday, showing that even at 24 - ancient for a female gymnast - she's not quite ready to call it a career just yet. Palms sweating, chest pounding, tape covering the spot where she shredded her Achilles, Sacramone was her typical ferocious self. Thundering down the runway, Sacramone earned a 15.45 and just missed sticking the landing. She rolled her eyes a bit as she stomped off the mat, perhaps the surest sign she's back. ''I was ticked,'' Sacramone said. ''I'm like a closet perfectionist when it comes to stuff. I was upset that I didn't do what I wanted.'' Her mood went from bad to worse following her second vault when her hands slipped off the table and she failed to get her typical explosion. ''I just kind of slid and closed my eyes and hoped the ground was going to come soon,'' Sacramone said. ''That's not my normal style of vault.'' Things went much better on beam, where her rock-solid approach netted a score of 15.2 tied for second, an encouraging sign for someone who needs to excel on both events if she wants to head to London next month. --- HOMETOWN ADVANTAGE: The loudest cheers at Chaifetz Arena were saved for defending Olympic champion Nastia Liukin and surging Gabby Douglas, who could be a breakout star at the games. Running a close third, however, was 15-year-old Sarah Finnegan, a St. Louis native who hardly looked intimidated by the big stage. An entire section shouting encouragement at every turn, Finnegan finished sixth on the first day of competition and glided her way to the top score on beam, her 15.350 beating the more experienced competition. ''I was a little nervous but that comes with all the people watching and stuff,'' Finnegan said. ''I just try to tune everyone out.'' She hardly looked rattled even though all of second 113 exploded every time she nailed a dismount of completed a tricky maneuver. It also showed there were no hard feelings stemming from her family's decision four years ago to move to Kansas City in an effort to get serious about her gymnastics. While her father, Don, stayed behind, Finnegan, her mother and three sisters headed across the state, where Finnegan could train under coach Al Fong, who guided Courtney McCool and Terin Humphrey to spots on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. The move has paid off handsomely. An unknown when the year began, Finnegan is becoming a serious competitor for a spot on the Olympic team. She appeared to be a longshot when the year began but seemed to find her footing at a meet in Italy earlier this year. She finished third in the all-around and then backed it up with a solid performance in Chicago at a meet that featured Liukin and reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber. Finnegan took another step forward on Friday. If she backs it up on Sunday she could be in position to make some serious noise at Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif., in three weeks. ''I feel pretty confident about,'' Finnegan said. ''I still had a few mistakes I could improve on too.'' --- PLAYING IT SAFE: Kyla Ross started the day thinking she needed to take a risk on vault to be near the top of the leaderboard. Turns out, she didn't. Ross finished the first day in fourth, less than a point behind co-leaders Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber, despite the decision by her coaches to call an audible and have her switch vaults at the last second. She had planned to perform an Amanar - which requires a gymnast to do a roundoff onto the board, a back handspring off it followed by 2 1/2 twists. When Ross struggled to get the proper height required to pull it off during warm-ups, her coaches consulted with U.S. team coordinator Martha Karolyi before opting for something a little less risky. It paid off with a score of 15.1, sixth best and she's still in striking distance heading into Sunday's final round. ''It was just something we talked about, warm-ups didn't go so great so it was just a good idea,'' Ross said. ''The coaches talked with Martha and it was something we didn't feel right about.'' Ross is hopeful she can attempt it in the finals, though at this point her biggest concern is simply continuing to build toward the trials. --- JUNIOR LEADER: Lexie Priessman's biggest challenge for the junior title might be herself. The ''teenage struggles'' she's had recently were nowhere in sight Friday as Priessman took a solid lead in the junior competition at the U.S. gymnastics championships. With 59.20 points, she leads Bailie Key by 1.65 points going into the final Sunday. Defending junior champion Katelyn Ohashi had an off day, falling off beam, and is sixth. ''We've had some teenage struggles, just dealing with life,'' said Mary Lee Tracy, Priessman's coach. ''Lexie's had some drama issues, so we really worked on composure.'' Priessman never looked a bit flustered. The 15.25 she scored for her upbeat and energetic floor routine was the third-highest score of the afternoon, and highest on any event besides vault. She also posted the second-best score on vault, and was third on uneven bars. ''Floor exercise had to be my best,'' Priessman said. ''I landed all my passes pretty well and I felt like my dance was much better. I really wanted to get the crowd into it.'' Priessman turned 15 on Jan. 23, missing the Olympic cutoff by a little over three weeks. Gymnasts have to turn 16 in the Olympic year to be eligible to compete. Though she'd likely be in contention for London if she was old enough, Priessman said she tries not to think about it like that. ''I have four more years to train and get stronger,'' she said. ''It's not a punishment.'' --- AP National Writer Nancy Armour contributed to this report.
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