As Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Dominique Moceanu puts it, “there’s always guaranteed elation, heartache and drama at the Olympic trials.”
That much was proven on Sunday night as the country’s top gymnasts competed for the chance to represent the U.S.A. at the 2012 Olympic Games. Moceanu talked to PEOPLE on her way home from the trials, which left her feeling very optimistic about the country’s chances in London.
The team gold medal “is theirs to win, absolutely,” says Moceanu. “Without a doubt, I think it’s theirs. But it’s a matter of who’s going to be healthy, emotionally and physically, to handle the pressure. And without a veteran on the team, too.”
Of the veteran gymnasts who competed at the trials (none of whom were named to the team), Moceanu says, “my heart breaks for them.” That includes Nastia Liukin, who fell short in her bid for an Olympic comeback. “She has a lot to be proud of,” says Moceanu. “People showed her a lot of love and that’s what she needed. I’m glad she went out on a positive note. She finished her beam routine, which was probably her last competitive routine of her career.”
But Alicia Sacramone, the 2008 Olympic team captain who battled back from a ruptured Achilles to vie for a spot on this year’s team, might have been a good addition, Moceanu adds.
“When you get to the Olympics, there are very few people who can prepare you and guide you like those who have been there,” says Moceanu, 30. “Sacramone has those intangibles and she would be that leader.” But Team Coordinator Marta Karolyi (of whom Moceanu is critical in her memoir, Off Balance), appears to have a different game plan.
“I interviewed [Marta] at the World Championships and she made it very clear that she was focused solely on the younger generation,” says Moceanu. Still, the youngsters who were chosen make up “a very strong team,” Moceanu says.
The Olympian and author broke down the strengths of each gymnast for PEOPLE, and how they can contribute to team USA:
“She’s such a tough competitor,” says Moceanu. “I love watching her because she’s always ready and hungry to compete at her best. And her mental toughness, that’s what helps her succeed consistently. I think she’s got a lot to offer the team and her and Gabby [Douglas] are going to be the ones striving for those all-around medals, definitely.”
“She’s full of life and full of personality. Gabby has a really exciting bar routine – she flies so high on those release moves. She has a wonderful coach. [Liang Chow] truly cares for her as an individual just as I saw him care about Shawn [Johnson]. She’s proven herself heading into the Olympics gaining more confidence and more consistency. She’s an all-arounder. She doesn’t really have a weakness.”
“This girl, you want her on your team. She doesn’t miss! She’s got incredible endurance, she’s just so rock solid. I love that you can always count on her. She could be a great starter for some of the events to get them off to that great start they need in the lineup. Her huge asset is her consistency.”
“Marta [Karolyi] mentioned Kyla and Sarah Finnegan [an alternate on the 2012 team] last year at Worlds as the up-and-comers, so I knew they were the ones that she had her eye on for that last spot. She loves Kyla’s grace, her artistry, and she loves her look. She’s a great kid. They’re happy to have her because she’s going to add another element of beauty and grace and artistic gymnastics.”
A specialist, Maroney was selected for the very difficult (and therefore potentially high-scoring) vault that she’ll do at the Games. “She does a second vault,” says Moceanu, and “she can do all-around so they can put her up if they need to. But vaulting is what they want her to win a gold medal on.”
Elizabeth Price, Sarah Finnegan and Anna Li were all named as alternates, and they could be called upon to perform in London, says Moceanu. “If there’s an injury in the next couple of weeks at [training] camp or at the Olympics, they can replace somebody,” she says.
“Those alternate spots are very realistic. This team could be switched up. This is not definitive yet. We have to see who’s going to make it through the camp and the training. There’s still a lot of heavy training coming. I hope the coaches protect the athletes.”