This is not about who's on the team, but something equally important to winning.
It's part textbook strategy, part gamble, and all about getting the best possible score for the team's best routines.
What will be the exact sequence of gymnasts competing on each event?
Who has the nerves to be up first, and who is considered the anchor for the team on each apparatus?
And for the team qualifications, who does the team want to give chances to for qualification of certain event finals?
Vault: Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney
Bars: Raisman, Wieber, Kyla Ross, Douglas
Beam: Ross, Douglas, Wieber, Raisman
Floor: Ross, Douglas, Wieber, Raisman
Vault: Douglas, Wieber, Maroney
Bars: Wieber, Ross, Douglas
Beam: Ross, Wieber, Raisman
Floor: Douglas, Wieber, Raisman
Here's where the textbook strategy comes in.
The first gymnast up is usually someone who is known to deliver clean performances—you don't want your first gymnast coming off the apparatus and affecting the morale of the team.
Marta Karolyi will likely want someone who will set the standard for the team; a reliable performer who can show a good start value and impressive composure amidst a roaring Olympic crowd.
The next three (for team qualifications) or two (for team finals) gymnasts up will be building on that first score, because as much as the judges try to be impartial and objective, judging by definition is a subjective activity—the first scores per team for each event tend to be a little muted.
It is the safe benchmark from which they will actually begin the judging of the other gymnasts on the team, and the judges are wary of giving too big a score in case better gymnasts come along.
If judges could remember the hundreds of gymnasts competing in the entire field, they could, theoretically, use the very first gymnast of the competition day as their benchmark. But anyone who has judged would know it's a little tough to remember your impressions of each and every performer, so starting afresh and setting a new starting point for each team is usually the way things go.
By that logic, the last gymnast up is usually the one receiving most—if any—of the judges' generosity when it comes to score marking. Thus, teams usually save their best gymnast to anchor the team on each event.
The gamble is on all gymnasts performing to what is expected of their positions.
Taking a look at Team USA's lineup on each event during the 2011 World Championships Team Finals, it is clear that Marta Karolyi employs the above strategy. On vault, for instance, it was Aly Raisman first, followed by Jordyn Wieber, then McKayla Maroney—the reverse sequence of who could bring in the best score.
And the same logic was followed on the other three apparatuses.
Now, when it comes to who's up for team qualifications, Karolyi needs to consider who will give Team USA the best medaling chances in the event finals.
I have a feeling she'll put three strong gymnasts up for the all-around and see which end up being the top two—this is easily Wieber, Douglas and Raisman. If any one of them fumbles, the other two will almost certainly still make it to the top 24 (with two per country max).
That means those three will have to perform on all four events during qualifications.
Given the reports of Maroney standing on the sidelines during most team practices in London, except for vault, it is highly likely that Ross will stand in for three events for qualifications.
The last thing to note is that I put Ross ahead of Douglas on beam for the qualifying round, but dropped the latter (and not the first gymnast on the list as per the other events) for the team finals. This is because Douglas has a higher start value, but is less consistent on the event. At the end of the day, consistency is needed for the finals, especially for the gymnast first up.
So there you go, Team USA's Olympic lineup down to who goes last.
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