Women's Gymnastics 2012: Comparing the Fab 5 to Polarizing 1996 USA Team
The 2012 U.S. women's gymnastics team has won the second gold medal in the sport for the country.
Move over, Magnificent Seven, the Fab Five are now the greatest women's gymnastics team in U.S. Olympic history.
This is in no way a shot at the 1996 Olympic gymnastics team. They will always have their place in history as the first team to win gold for the United States. The 2012 team was just greater.
The 1996 team captivated our hearts with the performances of Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes and the heroic Kerri Strug. This year's team, led by Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman, had us emotionally invested in every event.
It is always hard to debate or compare athletes' performances from different eras. Rules change and training methods improve, among plenty of other factors. For the sake of this discussion, let's look at the expectations entering the Olympic Games, adversity faced during competition and the actual performance.
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It's harder to be the favorite than it is to be the underdog.
In the previous two Olympic Games, the American women entered the competition as the defending world champions. Both times they failed to live up to expectations and left without the gold medal, winning silver in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.
Coming into the 2012 Olympic Games, the United States women's gymnastics team once again was the favorite to win the gold medal. Not only were they the defending world champions, the team also had vault champion McKayla Maroney and the all-around champion Jordan Wieber on the roster.
On top of those expectations was the pressure of ending the 16-year gold medal drought since the 1996 team won.
Speaking of the 1996 team, they entered the Olympic Games in Atlanta coming off a bronze finish at the World Championships. They were expected to compete but weren't expected to beat Romania, Russia or China.
If the 1996 team didn't win the gold medal, there would have been little disappointment. It would simply have been another chapter in the dominance of Russia and Romania in the sport. However, if this year's team failed, it would've been the third straight disappointing performance in the Olympic Games, but by the team that was dubbed the "Fab Five" before the competition even started.
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We all remember Kerri Strug's heroic vault in the 1996 Olympic Games on an injured ankle. While that was a very impressive moment, Jordyn Wieber's display of mental toughness was a more impressive feat.
Gymnastics is as mental a sport as it is physical. With the defending world champion not qualifying for the individual all-around finals, some were wondering how it would affect her mentally in the team competition.
Wieber performed valiantly and helped the U.S. team win its second gold medal and erase the 16-year drought.
Again, not taking anything away from Strug's performance, but if she doesn't stick that landing, the built-in excuse from injury is there and the team still performed at or above expectations. If Wieber didn't deliver, the story would've been the defending world champion failing not once, but twice.
Domination over Competition
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The 2012 U.S. women's gymnastics team flat out dominated the competition at the Olympic Games.
They finished their first event, the vault, in spectacular fashion and had a 1.7-point lead that they would never surrender. Russia would close the gap on the uneven bars, but went into self-destruct mode on the balance beam. While the other teams were making costly errors, the American women stayed consistent and strong, eventually winning the gold by five whole points above the second-place Russians.
The American women had the top team scores in every event except for the uneven bars.
Things were much closer in 1996. The American team won gold by a slim margin of 0.8 points over the Russians. They had the top-ranked uneven bars and floor exercise performances and the second-highest vault and balance beam.
The scoring system has changed since then so the difference in margins is not a true apples to apples comparison. However, the 2012 team's final score was three percent greater than second place compared to a two percent margin in 1996. Compared to their competition this year's team was superior.
U.S. coach John Geddart said via the Associated Press that he believes his team was the better team.
Others might disagree. The '96 team might disagree. But this is the best team.
Again, there is no perfect way to compare different eras but if you look at expectations, adversity and domination over competition, it is clear that the 2012 team is the best in U.S. Olympic history.
Jamal Wilburg is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.