The question I get asked the most often by my friends as we head into the Olympics is “How are the USA’s chances.” My answer, “Currently, it is theirs to lose.” But the key word is currently. Right now, we have one of the deepest, most dominant US teams ever assembled.
The USA comes into the Olympics as the reigning world championship team. Led by reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber, Olympic trials champion Gabby Douglas, two time world team member and world bronze floor champion Aly Raisman, rising star Kyla Ross and 2011 world vault champion McKayla Maroney. The alternates are Elizabeth Price, Sarah Finnegan and Anna Li. They have high difficulty, high scores and most of all, they are very consistent. They rarely fall, or even make major mistakes.
However, the other countries know this, and have been working hard to up their difficulty so that they can challenge for the team gold medal. And history is working against them. No team coming into an Olympic year as the World Champions have won the Olympic team gold since the dominance of the USSR.
The second question, “Is China going to wipe the floor with us?” Well, no. This quad, China has not been dominant. In 2010, Russia showed a brilliant team with lots of future promise. The USA dominated in 2011. And this year, Romania is proving themselves ready for the challenge. The USA’s main competitors are Romania and Russia.
Russia’s team is led by veteran Ksenia Afanasyeva, last year’s silver medalist Viktoria Komova, rising star Anastasia Grishina, 2010 superstar Aliya Mustafina and vault specialist Maria Paseka. Their alternates are Yulia Inshina and Tatiana Nabieva.
Romania’s team is led by 2004 Olympic team, beam, and floor champion Catalina Ponor, rising star Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar, 2010 world championship silver medalist on floor Diana Chelaru and reigning Olympic floor champion Sandra Izbasa. The alternate is Raluca Haidu.
China’s 2011 bronze world championship medalist Yao Jinnan, 2008 Olympic team gold medalist Deng Linlin, 2011 world champion bronze medalist on bars Huang Qiushuang, 2011 world champion on beam and silver medalist on floor Sui Lu and reigning Olympic bars and team champion He Kexin may challenge for a bronze. The alternates are Jiang Yuyuan, Tan Sixin.
To give you a picture, here are the current scores and start values from the last meet each team competed at (USA Olympic Trials, Romanian Friendly, Russia Cup and Chinese Nationals). I almost gave up doing this, as the comparisons are hardly even worth making. These scores were obtained under different judges, at very different times in this last season. China’s were from the beginning of May and were never reported officially. These were obtained from a fan site. Some of the people placed on the team didn’t actually even compete. So please know, this is a very loose “guestimate” and PROVES nothing. But it gives us an inkling of an idea.
Looking at these scores, it is easy to see why for much of the spring, people only talked about who would challenge for silver. USA gold seemed basically locked up. But as we have gotten closer, the other countries are making their bid. A huge part of the US lead is based on competing three amanars, a vault with one of the highest difficulty rating. These vaults alone give the USA a 2.1 lead over most teams.
Lately, amanar rumors abound. Russia has one girl who competed one last month (Paseka) and there are training videos of Komova completing an amanar (first five seconds of this video). Here is what Valentina Rodionenko from Sovietsky Sport had to say (according to a translation from Rewriting Russian Gymnastics)
Currently, Maria Paseka performs this vault excellently. She was named to the team thanks to her vault. Vika Komova performs it in training. Aliya, who got seriously injured when performing this vault, will perform it in London. Of course, it’s possible not to run risks and perform 2 twists. But we think we have to run the risk, it’s justified”
Russia is not the only one with amanar rumors. There is a video of Larisa Iordache training an amanar and rumors have Izbasa and possibly even Ponor competing one too. China’s Huang Qiushuang also has a video making the youtube rounds of her amanar.
If these rumors all come to fruition, this would raise Russia’s difficulty to .4 AHEAD of the USA and would raise Romania’s difficulty to trailing the USA by .6 instead of almost 3 points. I will be honest. I WANT these teams to come in with clean, safe amanars. I have been looking forward to a three or four way show down for gold for YEARS. Ever since Russia dominated in 2012 and Romania brought back their old coach Octavian Belu I have been gleefully anticipating one of the best team and all around competitions in gymnastics history. The thought of a repeat of last years Worlds, where the USA won by over four points is actually not appealing to me. Yes, I am a US fan. But more so, I am a gymnastics fan and I want to see great gymnastics!
But if I have learned anything this year watching the US team come together, it is that what IS is what WILL BE. I named the current US Olympic team months ago, but anxiously awaited Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Chellsie Memmel and Rebecca Bross to show performances that matched their former glory. Training rumors and even videos abound with promises of what was to come. But it never materialized. And in the end, the gymnastics that I saw all spring was what won the day.
I am so hoping that in the end, it will be a battle to the last tenth. We will all be sitting on the edge of our seats, wondering what the final placings will be. That everyone will hit and beautiful and difficult gymnastics will take our breath away. But in the end, I think the USA will take the gold.
I have never seen a team so full of calm, confident, consistent competitors. I boldly predict that it will be USA, Romania and Russia. But I hope that the competition is very, very close.