By design, gymnastics is an individual sport. Endless hours of training on the beam, vault, bars or mat result in just mere seconds of intense concentration and will.
The gymnastics competition at the Olympics naturally focuses on individual stars, and has had its share of adored legends such as Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton.
However, the team competition is the most enthralling event of the Olympic gymnastics program. Naturally, the individual events will receive more fanfare. At the end of the day though, the team event should be the one that sticks in the minds of those who compete in it for the rest of their lives.
Only a few can medal, but the team competition gives those blessed with enough skill to make an Olympic team an opportunity to be a part of a medal-winning effort. Take a look at the “Magnificent Seven”, the U.S. women’s squad that won gold in the team competition at the 1996 Games held in Atlanta.
Outside of Shannon Miller, no one in this group won a gold medal in Olympic competition outside of the team competition. Jaycie Phelps and Amanda Borden were not big names on the squad, but nonetheless received an opportunity to and delivered performances crucial in aiding the gold medal effort.
In the final event, Kerri Strug landed her vault routine to clinch gold over Russia, despite a brutal ankle injury after her first event. She missed the rest of the individual competition with her injury, but came through when it mattered most for her six teammates.
There is no doubt any medals look great on even the ugliest shelf. Yet, part of the Olympic spirit is a focus on comradery. While relying on others to perform in a sport where your routine’s performance is generally independent of others might seem frustrating, that same sense of frustration translates into the feeling of being invested towards a positive performance of someone beyond one’s self.
Since the “Magnificent Seven,” the United States has not won the women’s team competition, finishing second the last two Games. Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas are the 2012 answer to Beijing’s Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson. Neither is old enough to vote, yet are being touted as the leaders on a U.S. group ready to bring back gold in the team competition.
The team is like a group of artisans, each specializing in their own focus of gymnastic events.
Wieber and McKayla Maroney are whizzes on the vault. Douglas has the one of the top uneven bars scores in the world this year, while Kyla Ross is among the best too. Aly Raisman can fly on the floor exercise. Wieber and Douglas’s all-around greatness will anchor the squad, but everyone on the team is sure to contribute their part to the effort.
2008-champ China, Russia and Romania are also contenders to take home gold in the team competition.
Nonetheless, with the U.S. team as deep and well-rounded as it’s ever been, the team competition will have its fair share of nerve-wracking and legendary Olympic moments. Maybe even one like Strug’s.