The U.S. men's Olympic team can thank the ladies for taking some of the heat off them—and for totally reversing America's train of thought on Tuesday.
Just one day after the men blew it in their attempt to take home team gold, the women got the job done with flying colors, finishing first in the team competition with a score of 183.596. Russia, the second-place team, finished a full five points behind the Americans.
It's official, then. The U.S. women's gymnastics team is the best by a long shot.
And it's a well-deserved, hard-fought victory for the Americans, too. This team has been through the ringer since last weekend, when the world was shocked to see 2011 all-around World Champion Jordyn Wieber fail to qualify for the all-around competition.
Apparently, those memories have been long forgotten.
The women's storyline seemed to be the direct inverse of the men's. While the men entered the team competition as one of the favorites to come away with the gold, the women were saddled with uncertainty, mostly due to Wieber's unexpected collapse.
Meanwhile, China's men's team finished sixth in the qualifying round but rallied for a first-place finish in the medal round; China's women's team took the opposite trajectory, entering the team competition as the defending champions—and as one of the favorites—but somehow struggling to a fourth-place finish behind Romania.
Tuesday's events couldn't have gone more perfectly for the U.S. Wieber, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas excelled on the vault. The Americans were solid on the uneven bars—the team's weakest event, according to The Boston Globe's John Powers. Aly Raisman, the team captain, stood strong on the balance beam.
This time, at the end of it all, there was no disappointment, like there was during the qualifying round. This time, the Americans got their heads in the game just in time to see exactly what they wanted to see on the scoreboard.
This U.S. team entered the 2012 Games with immense expectations on their shoulders, and rightfully so: They were heralded as one of the strongest, deepest teams the U.S. had sent to the Olympics in years. But often, expectations like that can lead a team down a perilous path—especially when the team in question is very young and has very little Olympic experience.
Look at what happened to Michael Phelps, when faced with enormous expectations this summer. Look at what happened to John Orozco and the men's gymnastics team. Look at what happened to the men's swimmers in the freestyle relay.
Yet somehow, the gymnasts managed to put all of those voices and thoughts aside. They focused, and that's a lot easier said then done.
The strategy for picking this summer's women's team was simple: Go with the two best all-around candidates in Wieber and Douglas, then complement them with specialists in each event. That's how Raisman (floor exercise), Maroney (vault) and Kyla Ross (uneven bars) ended up on the squad.
It's safe to say that strategy was a success. Maybe four years from now, the rest of the world should take note.
The U.S. men may have disappointed on Monday, but now, thankfully, nobody's thinking about that. The women gymnasts have done what no U.S. team has been able to do since 1996: They stole the show.