US Women's Gymnastic Olympic Team 2012: Best Bets for Individual Event Medals
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the U.S. women's gymnastics team won seven individual medals—two gold, four silver, and one bronze—and the silver medal in the team all-around. This was the United States's best ever Olympic performance, topping even the 1984 squad, who won the same number of medals but a higher proportion of bronze.
Team USA hopes to carry that success into the 2012 London Olympics, and they have assembled an outstanding team of young gymnasts capable of bringing home a treasure trove of medals.
The team is led by Jordyn Wieber, perhaps the best all-around gymnast in the world. Wieber is joined by Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Kyla Ross.
Here we look at who represents the United States' best medal opportunity in each individual event at the 2012 London Olympics.
Balance Beam: Aly Raisman
Along with the floor exercise, the balance beam is one of Aly Raisman's two best events. At the Olympic trials, Raisman scored a 30.350 on the apparatus, defeating Alicia Sacramone by 0.200 points. She also edged out her Olympic teammates Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber, who tied for third with a score of 29.950.
Raisman won the gold medal in the beam at the 2012 Visa National Championships in St. Louis, improving on her bronze medal on the apparatus at the 2010 National Championships and silver medal at the 2010 Pacific Rim Championships.
Raisman has the potential to medal in more than one event in London, but she will have steep competition on the beam. After failing to win a single gold medal on the beam for the first 12 Olympiads in which it was given, the United States has come to dominate the apparatus in recent Olympiads, winning two gold medals and three silver medals on the beam since 1992. Raisman is Team USA's best chance of continuing to add to its emerging strength on the apparatus.
Floor Exercise: Aly Raisman
Aly Raisman had to be happy with her results at this month's Olympic trials. In addition to her top score on the beam, she also won the floor exercise. Her score of 31.100 was a hair above her nearest competitor Jordyn Wieber (31.000).
Raisman is the most experienced gymnast on the Olympic team, but her performance has elevated to a new level in the past year. She had won mostly bronze and silver medals at national and international competitions in 2010 and 2011, winning her only goods as part of team efforts. At this year's Visa National Championships, she won her first major solo gold medals, earning the top score on both the beam and floor exercise.
Raisman will attempt to be the first ever American woman to win a gold medal for the floor exercise. Shawn Johnson came painfully close last year, but had to be content with the silver medal. She will do so to the tune of "Hava Nagila" in recognition of her Jewish faith.
Uneven Bars: Gabby Douglas
Early in Gabby Douglas's career, it looked like her best event would be the balance beam. Though Douglas continues to excel on the apparatus and is a talented all around gymnast, over the past three years she has demonstrated that she is particularly gifted on the uneven bars, earning the nickname The Flying Squirrel.
Douglas won her first elite medal on the uneven bars at the 2010 Pan American Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico, taking home the gold medal as part of Team USA's gold medal winning team effort. Douglas further cemented her reputation as a rising star on the uneven bars in her silver medal winning effort at the 2011 Cover Girl Classic.
Douglas has shined on the apparatus at the Visa National Championships, earning a silver medal in 2011 and then improving to a gold medal at the 2012 event. She also collected a bronze in the floor exercise and a silver in the all-around at the 2012 tournament. Battling through an ankle injury that negatively impacted her performance in other events, she won the gold medal in the uneven bars at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships.
Douglas clinched her trip to the Olympics with a dominant performance at the Olympic trials, defeating Jordyn Wieber by a 10th of a point for the top score in the trials. Douglas looked strong on every event except the balance beam, but shined particularly brightly on the uneven bars.
Douglas's top rival in London will be Viktoria Komova of Russia, who won gold on the apparatus at last year's World Championships in Tokyo and this year's European Championship in Brussels.
Vault: McKayla Maroney
As a result of the International Gymnastics Federation's decision to reduce the size of Olympic gymnastics teams from six to five, it was widely thought that teams would no longer be able to include specialists on their teams, but instead would have to select only all-around gymnasts. While the United States seemed to embrace that philosophy in selecting four of their five gymnasts, McKayla Maroney's dominance on the vault was just too overwhelming to pass up.
Maroney won gold on the vault at both the 2010 and 2011 Visa National Championships, and was expected to win gold again in 2012 before she was forced to withdraw due to an injury. She also won gold at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo and at the City of Jesolo Trophy in 2011 and 2012.
Despite missing half of her training time between the 2012 Visa National Championships and the Olympic qualifiers due to her injury, she finished first at the qualifiers with the highest score of the night by any gymnast in any event.
No American woman has ever won an Olympic gold medal in the vault, and only twice has an American woman won any medal in the event. Maroney's top rival in London will likely be six time Olympian Oksana Chusovitina of Germany, who finished second to Maroney at the 2011 World Championships. Maroney is generally considered the favorite to win gold.
Individual All-Around: Jordyn Wieber
An American woman has won the gold medal in the individual all-around in the last two Olympics. Jordyn Wieber is Team USA's best hope for a three-peat.
Wieber is the star of the 2012 Olympic team and the two-time defending national champion in the all-around, having won gold in both the 2011 and 2012 Visa National Championships. She's also won the all-around gold medal at three American Cups, the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships, and the 2011 World Championships.
Wieber looked great at the Olympic trials, finishing no lower than fourth in the floor, beam, and bars. Though Gabby Douglas is becoming a strong contender for the all-around medal, upsetting Wieber for the top spot at the trials, Wieber is still the star of the American team and is believed to be a lock to medal in London.
Her biggest competition in London will likely come from Russia's Viktoria Komova, who Wieber defeated at the 2011 World Championships, and Yao Jinnan, the star of the Chinese team.