By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Wieber Fever" has been steadily building in her Michigan hometown and the craze could become a worldwide phenomenon if Jordan Wieber can clinch the all-around women's gymnastics title at the Olympic Games.
The 16-year-old American, renowned for her intense power and consistency, is among the clear favorites heading into London where she will aim to bask in Olympic glory after winning the world all-around title in Tokyo last year.
Wieber is the latest in a long line of world-class female gymnasts produced by the United States and will be bidding to emulate Mary Lou Retton (1984), Carly Patterson (2004) and Nastia Liukin (2008) as all-around Olympic champions.
Though she was surprisingly edged out by U.S. team mate Gabby Douglas in the overall standings at the Olympic trials in San Jose earlier this month, it was only the second time Wieber had lost an all-around competition since 2008.
"She's so consistently great. She really does not have a weak event," Shannon Miller, the most decorated U.S. gymnast of all time, told Reuters about Wieber.
"She has worked very hard on uneven bars to make sure that that's not a weakness and she's just a powerhouse on the other three. So it's hard to find a chink in the armour."
Asked whether she thought Wieber could become one of the best female gymnasts of all time, Miller replied: "Oh certainly. She's still got a long career ahead. She's still a very young athlete, so 2012 is not necessarily the end of the line for her.
"She's got a lot of great years ahead," added Miller, who was world all-around champion in 1993 and 1994 and a member of the so-called 'Magnificent Seven' that landed Olympic team gold for the U.S. in 1996.
Fellow American Shawn Johnson, who won Olympic gold on the beam at the 2008 Beijing Games along with silver in the team, all-around and floor exercise competitions, identifies with Wieber's explosive strength.
"I see in her the power that I had, kind of we're the power athletes but she is her own individual and she's made her mark as Jordan Wieber," Johnson told Reuters.
"I wouldn't want to compare her to me because I think she has made herself as someone unique."
Johnson, who announced her retirement from competition last month at the age of 20 because of recurring knee problems, did not hesitate when asked to pinpoint Wieber's strengths.
"She is powerful, she catches your eye," Johnson replied. "She has big tricks and she nails them, and she nails them every time. Those are her two strongest qualities.
"She's incredibly consistent and she's going to be one of those girls in the all-round to beat at the London Games, that's for sure."
Wieber does not possess the grace and effervescent gymnastic style of fellow 16-year-old Douglas and instead performs with an unwavering intensity matched by very few in the sport, whether past or present.
"She always was very intense and going for whatever she was asked to do," U.S. women's national team coordinator Martha Karolyi recalled of Wieber when she first saw her at a development camp.
"She was in her own world and wasn't a very smiley person. But I had Nadia Comaneci, who wasn't a smiley person, and that's the type of gymnast Jordyn is. I could compare her mental toughness to Nadia."
Wieber is bracketed with Douglas and Russians Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina as leading contenders for the Olympic all-around title in London but she shrugs off the label of being a favourite.
"I try not to think about that too much," she at the U.S. trials. "I feel I have proved myself just as much as everybody else does. I usually don't think about the past too much. I just try to perform the routines I have been practising."
Wieber is much happier to talk about the prospects of Olympic team gold for the United States who triumphed over long-time rivals Russia and China to win last year's world championships in Tokyo.
"Coming out of the worlds with a team gold medal was a real good confidence booster," Wieber smiled. "But at the same time it shows we need to keep working just as hard as we were and try to get even stronger as a team leading up to the Olympics.
"It's going to be pretty tough in London and there are a lot of good countries out there. But I think if we all do our job and continue to work hard and just do what we've been doing all along, we will be okay."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes)