The true test of Olympic valor may not be earning a medal, but in dealing with the shattered dream of one.

For her grace in handling a shocking setback -- failing to qualify for the women's gymnastics individual competition Jordyn Wieber may have won more fans and become a more enduring image of Olympic champions than if she had garnered the all-around gold medal she hungered for.

A tiny 17-year-old from Michigan, Wieber's strength and class belie her age. Cameras recorded every moment as she uncharacteristically failed to dazzle judges, then paid a terrible price for small mistakes in her Sunday routines.

Because of a ridiculous new rule limiting the number of team members who can qualify for the all-around individual competition, Wieber, the current world champion, will sit on the sidelines as two other American women compete in the all-around.

That realization settled in almost in slow motion. Wieber fought it at first, but then the disbelief evaporated and the tears flowed, smearing her carefully applied eyeshadow and glitter.

A TV reporter began interviewing Alexandra Raisman, an American gymnast who will compete in the all-around, but viewers couldn't take their eyes off the quietly distraught Wieber in the background as she waited for her turn at the microphone and the inevitable "What happened?" question.

But by Tuesday, Wieber had amazingly pulled herself together for the team competition. She came into the arena with her head held high and did her job -- nailing her floor routine in particular -- as she helped the American team win gold.

There was no sign of the emotional devastation she surely struggled with. Instead, she lifted her team with a rock-solid performance and graciously shared the spotlight.

Wieber won't compete in the all-around competition. But she's earned the lasting respect of everyone who's been dealt a kick-you-in-the-gut setback and persevered instead of complaining. We'll be cheering for her for a long, long time.


Jill Burcum is a Star Tribune editorial writer.