Expectations are always high for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, but the London 2012 Games bring a more frenzied level of hype than usual.
Young and overflowing with premier talent, Team USA won last year’s world championships going away and could contend for gold medals in as many as five of the six Olympic artistic disciplines. If that wasn’t enough, Team USA’s ballyhooed quintet recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated under the headline, “Five Stars.”
Meet the team that everyone is buzzing about and get to know just what exactly makes this squad one of the most compelling collectives Uncle Sam will send to London.
Alexandra (Aly) Raisman (18, Needham, MA)
The team’s veteran leader is a solid all-around performer who excels on floor exercise.
Jordyn Wieber (17, DeWitt, MI)
Wieber is the reigning individual all-around world champ and can contribute on all four apparatuses.
McKayla Maroney (16, Long Beach, CA)
Simply put, she’s the best vaulter in the world.
Gabby Douglas (16, Virginia Beach, VA)
An athletic and graceful all-arounder with huge scoring potential, Douglas is bursting with star quality.
Kyla Ross (15, Aliso Viejo, CA)
Ross provides Team USA with some serious bite on uneven bars.
Anna Li (23, Aurora, IL)
Elizabeth Price (16, Coopersburg, PA)
Sarah Finnegan (15, St. Louis, MO)
Jordyn Wieber: Even after losing a tight battle with Gabby Douglas at U.S. Trials, Wieber is still widely considered the world’s best all-around gymnast. A sturdy performer with tight, compact movements, Wieber doesn’t wow judges with artistry or stand out on any one event. She is, however, uncommonly consistent and acquits herself well on all four apparatuses. Depending on how she qualifies, Wieber could enter the conversation for individual medals on almost any apparatus, but her best shot at gold is in the all-around.
Gabby Douglas: A fan favorite because of her grace, athleticism and inviting personality, Douglas announced herself as a gold-medal contender in the all-around by beating reigning world champ Jordyn Wieber at U.S. Trials. On her best days, Douglas is a fearless performer who can throw up gaudy number after gaudy number. That said, she’s prone to mistakes—particularly on beam—and has never contested an all-around final at a world championship. In addition to her all-around excellence, Douglas should also challenge for a medal on uneven bars.
McKayla Maroney: The most popular high-scoring vault in women’s gymnastics today is the Amanar, a dangerous maneuver that requires height, distance and a perilous blind landing. No one does the Amanar better than Maroney. Just as important, no one lands it more often. She’s the odds-maker’s favorite to win vault gold and should be a big boon to Team USA in the overall competition.
Aly Raisman: Raisman is powerful, athletic and reliable. If Douglas or Wieber falters in qualification, she could become a major player in the individual all-around final. More likely, she’ll medal in floor exercise and compete on at least three apparatuses in the team final.
Russia: After failing to medal in Beijing, the Russian team has recharged and looks like Uncle Sam’s most potent threat in London. Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina have performed well at past world championships in the individual all-around and could topple American favorites Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas. As a team, the Russians are strong on uneven bars and hope their supremacy on that apparatus can key a gold-medal upset.
China: The Chinese aren’t nearly the team they were in Beijing, but that doesn’t mean they’re without talent. He Kexin is back to defend her uneven bars title and Sui Lu has medal aspirations on beam and in floor exercise.
Romania: Though they disappointed at 2011 Worlds, the Romanians are building a strong team on beam and floor. With improvement on vault, they could be a dangerous foe in London. Silver is very much a possibility, with gold on the horizon if Team USA slips.
Great Britain: The Brits won’t likely factor into the team all-around picture, but they should have one of their best Olympic showings ever. Beth Tweddle and Hannah Whelan both have individual apparatus medal aspirations, and should benefit from the home crowd support.
— Like countless other teenage girls, Jordyn Wieber has a thing for Justin Bieber. The convenience provided by their rhyming surnames mean you’re about to hear a lot more than you would’ve expected about this sliver of a schoolgirl crush.
— Gabby Douglas’ father is an Air Force staff sergeant serving in Afghanistan.
— McKayla Maroney’s dad, Michael Maroney, played quarterback for Purdue.
— Gabby Douglas can teach you how to Dougie.
— Kyla Ross' dad, Jason Ross, was a minor league outfielder who reached Triple-A with the Atlanta Braves organization in 2001.
National Team Director: Martha Karolyi
Medals Won: 34 (7 gold, 15 silver, 12 bronze)
Interesting Fact: None of the five gymnasts on the Olympic team train at the same gym.
Most recent Olympic title in…
Team Competition: 1996
Individual All-Around: 2008 (Nastia Liukin)
Vault: None (silver medals for Annia Hatch in 2004 and Mary Lou Retton in 1984)
Uneven Bars: 1984 (Julianne McNamara)
Balance Beam: 2008 (Shawn Johnson)
Floor Exercise: None (silver medals for Shawn Johnson in 2008 and Julianne McNamara in 1984)