The USA women’s gymnastics team participating in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games will try to one-up the 2008 squad, which finished with a silver medal in the women’s team final. The women’s gymnastics world thinks it will.
The five member team consists of Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross. All five made the team resulting from their performances at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, which wrapped up July 1 in San Jose.
Bela Karolyi has guaranteed a gold-medal result for the ladies in London. Karolyi, of course, coached the U.S. women in Olympic competition from 1984 through 1996. Under his guidance, Mary Lou Retton and Kerri Strug became American gymnastics icons.
Marta Karolyi, Bela’s wife, is the current national team coordinator—a position she took from her husband after the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.
The Karolyi’s represent the cream of the American women’s gymnastics coaching crop. Their methods, though not always athlete-friendly, have surely produced results.
Though Marta will not coach the team directly, she still has a large influence over the program as national team coordinator. John Geddert is the head coach.
Geddert—who is also Wieber’s personal coach—got the job on July 17. Wieber is not the only U.S. female gymnast with a personal coach on staff, though. Assistant coach Jenny Zhang is Ross’ personal coach.
According to a July 18 AP report from New Waverly, Texas:
“[Geddert] also coached the US at last fall’s world championships, where the young and inexperienced Americans won half the gold medals available, including the team title and Wieber’s all-around crown. They are heavy favorites for gold in London.”
So far, Bela Karolyi has led the Americans to its only Olympic gold in team competition, which was earned at home in Atlanta 16 years ago.
Most gymnasts only have one opportunity to become Olympians. Luckily for these five women, the opportunity has become a reality. What has gotten them here?
Douglas has an Olympic berth at just 16 years old.
The Virginia Beach native moved to West Des Moines, Iowa—by herself, two years ago—to train under Liang Chow. Douglas’ decision has paid off, as she won the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. This did not seem like a possibility as recently as 2011.
Though Douglas has always made her mark on the uneven bars, she fell off the balance beam several times trying to raise her stock for Team USA. Tim Daggett, a 1984 gold medalist and NBC gymnastics analyst, said what Douglas experienced would have ruined most gymnasts mentally, but she never gave up and learned from her mistakes.
Shawn Johnson, the pint-sized star from the 2008 Games, believes Douglas’ work with Chow has made the most difference. Johnson has trained with Chow since October 2010. According to Mark Emmert of indystar.com, Johnson said:
“[Douglas] looks like a new person. She competes like a new person. She thinks like a new person…I feel like she was just raw material, the talent, the first time she came to Chow’s. And Chow has built her into a machine. Watching her in practice just do repetition after repetition, just be all but perfect. Chow’s really working on the mental aspect.”
Chow marvels at Douglas’ power, coordination and flexibility, but most of all her mental toughness.
Douglas, who is called “The Flying Squirrel” due to her uneven bar abilities, could soar higher than the rest with an all-around gold in London.
Jordan Wieber, just 17 years old, credits her Olympic berth to focus.
At age 3, Wieber cried for more than 30 minutes because her mother took her away from a toy she was playing with in a doctor’s office. Eight years later, Wieber found herself competing for Team USA in gymnastics.
According to John Niyo of detroitnews.com:
“Wieber, the 17-year-old world champion gymnast from Dewitt [Michigan], is just getting started with her Olympic passage, but she’s already pegged as a gold medal favorite, with her Team USA ‘It’ girl promise stamped on the side of Kellogg’s cereal boxes and Sports Illustrated covers…”
Wieber’s focus led her to the 2008 U.S. Junior National Championship and the 2011 World Championship. Now, she has her eyes on Olympic gold.
Jack Doles of woodtv.com believes Wieber’s biggest challenge will not come from the Chinese or the Russians, but from teammate Gabby Douglas. As the Games unfold, perhaps this budding rivalry will be on par with Lochte-Phelps and Kobe-LeBron in Team USA’s intra-national competition.
After the Olympics, Wieber’s focus will compare with that of an average 17-year-old: to graduate high school in 2013 and to attend college. Putting an Olympic gold medal on her college applications would make that process a lot less stressful.
Maroney, at age 18, will compete in the Games despite injury problems.
Maroney is the reigning world champion in vault. Unfortunately for Maroney, Kelly Whiteside of usatoday.com has reported that a broken toe suffered on July 26 will limit Maroney to just this discipline. Whiteside said Ross will take Maroney’s place in the floor exercise.
A July 24 AP report from London explains why Maroney is tops in the vault:
“[Maroney] is one of a handful of competitors who can complete the difficult Amanar. The move requires a round-off then a back handspring onto the table before completing 2 ½ twists. When done well the vault—which can be done by all five of the Americans on the team—gives the U.S. a significant advantage over the competition and no one on the planet can match Maroney’s explosiveness.”
This makes Maroney arguably Team USA’s best specialist at any particular discipline.
Aly Raisman could be the most experienced gymnast on the roster, though.
According to Jenny Depper of Yahoo! Sports, Raisman’s gymnastics career began at 18 months old. You might say gymnastics, then, was her life’s calling.
Alicia Sacrimone, who competed alongside Johnson in 2008 for Team USA, considers Raisman this group’s leader. According to a July 7 editorial from boston.com, Raisman led Team USA to gold at the 2011 World Championships after Sacrimone suffered an Achilles injury.
Raisman even saw her foremothers win gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games—well, she watched a video of it at eight years old. According to the boston.com editorial:
“Raisman found it so inspirational, she told National Public Radio, ‘I would replay it, like day after day.’ She was so obsessed, she molded herself into one of the best gymnasts on the planet, doggedly climbing up ropes using only her hands, with 10-pound weights pulling on her legs.”
If the 18-year-old Needham, Massachusetts native gets the chance to climb on top of the medal stand with her teammates in London, I imagine she will feel those weights come off.
The final team member is Kyla Ross, who hails all the way from Honolulu, Hawaii.
At just 15 years old, Ross has given herself the opportunity to hang ten in London—not in surfing, but in gymnastics.
Ross won the all-around gold for Team USA’s senior team at the 2010 Pan-American Championships, and she made her third junior national team in 2011. Though she was too young to compete in the 2011 World Championships, the age limitations are no longer for Ross.
Ross earning gold at 15 would make me feel old, so just imagine what her parents—and her grandparents—think about her Olympic berth.
If you are a proud American, I know you would have cheered on these ladies anyway. Now, you know more about them. You are quite welcome.