Tonight Team USA delivered precisely what they had been promising all year by taking the team title at the 2012 Olympic Games in a decisive five point lead over Russia. Is anyone surprised by this win? Truly surprised? I shouldn’t think so.
To be frank, it has never quite occurred to me to think the result would be otherwise this year, given the depth of talent and competition-readiness the US have demonstrated in the pre-season. And if you were even slightly doubtful, seeing three of the team qualify second, third and fourth as individuals with massive individual scores in the qualification stages, should have convinced you.
You would think this would make the outcome boring, somehow. But for me, it doesn’t. There is something magical and satisfying in seeing such a well-orchestrated, well-oiled machine carry its task through to the finish. And this is exactly what Team USA did this week. Since the opening of their competition, the US have produced 28 routines without a fall A promise well and truly fulfilled.
They have been in this position in the past and not been able to follow through. But things are different this year. What Team USA bring to these games, aside from glorious good health- particularly compared to their 2008 counterparts-is total and utter confidence in what they can do. The routines they have done have been repeatedly performed in high-pressure competitions in the US pre-selection meets. The Amanars they sky-rocket have been tried and tested repeatedly. Their skills and their nerves have been tested at home, in front of crowds, cameras and an international public.
Of course, one could argue that this has always been the case for the US women, and they have still faltered in finals, but this year’s bunch have one more edge- extraordinary collective psychological confidence such as I have not seen in a team this decade except, perhaps Russia in 2010.
This is where the US’s depth truly resides. Raisman and Wieber exude immense competitive calm. An unfazed Maroney often greets those who marvel at her vault prowess with a rueful grin and a shrug. Why be nervous when it comes so easy? Even Ross has a quiet, measured competitive calm when it counts. And then there is Gabby Douglas. Before the Games people were worried about the competitive mettle of Gabby Douglas and maybe rightfully so, if her senior career as a whole is anything to go by. But if you look, really look, it is clear that with every success, Douglas has grown in confidence and assuredness.
And she is the kind of girl who does brilliantly swaddled by a team of confident talents. I think this works as a challenge to her. She seems to have a delightful, childlike attitude of, ‘if they can do it, I a sure as heck going to do it, too’. I truly believe that behind the bubbly, youthful “I am just so delighted to be here’ talented new girl persona is a fierce competitor. And every successful performance might just be the food that nourishes Douglas’s psyche. My theory will certainly be tested as she vies for the all around crown.
Funnily, while it has been the Amanar-apolooza that has been considered a massive part of the US’s winning edge, it was actually the floor exercise that gave the team its incredible edge tonight. Their combined score of 45.366 on that event was huge in defeating Russia, where Grshina’s problematic performance and Afanasyeva’s fall gave Russia only 41.599. Romania too, could only muster 44.700. Aly Raisman, the toughest female tumbler in the world right now, gave her team an immense 15.300 on that event- even with a watered down routine. Gabby Douglas’s 15.066 certainly didn’t hurt either.
While they might not have been able to quite catch them, Russia had a chance to finish closer to Team USA at the end of the meet, if a troubled final floor rotation that ended with a crash from world floor champion Ksenia Afanasyeva on her last pass (double pike) and a disastrous routine from Grishina hadn’t brought a sad end to their team medal bid. As expected, despite some brilliant performers, this is not the team that dominated in 2010. They simply lack the all around depth of a team like the USA this year.
It was exciting and joyous to see how team Romania rallied to earn themselves a medal. It was probably not quite the medal they wanted and, if Iordache was in full health, might not have been the one they might have won, but it is indeed wonderful to have this revitalised national program back in the game. Things can only go up from here. Izbasa and Ponor delivered beautifully on their strong events. Ponor dismissed her critics from the qualifications by taking the top beam score, while Izbasa ranked second in the floor scores. And B&B learned from qualifications and put Bulimar up on floor, where she hit her delightful routine easily.
And given Romania’s rapid improvement with the return of B&B, there was always going to be a team that missed out this year as the superpowers numbers became four. Someone had to come fourth, and this year it was China. Beijing’s winners became London’s ribbon-holders. It was not the result China would want, but a result that has been threatened this year. It has been difficult to watch China’s national program in action this year, with its clear lack of depth in the senior ranks. Having a period of re-adjustment and re-assessment as the seniors grow older and the juniors still prepare for the years ahead this year could not have been more badly timed for China.
The team that could and should be proudest tonight for exceeding all expectations and promise is team Canada. There was a question mark over Canada’s ability to even qualify for team finals without team star Peng Peng Lee and now Canada find themselves finished in fifth place behind the four gymnastics super-powers. Congratulations Team Canada, you have found depth and consistency over the last year or two and this finish should silence those who thought you didn’t have it in you. It was floor that did it, for Canada, where they actually finished third in the rankings behind US and Romania, helped along by Moors and Black’s terrific tumbling prowess and scoring potential.
Team Great Britain might have hoped for better after their fifth-place finish in 2011 in Tokyo- particularly after the success of their MAG boys last night and the fact that the are at home. But to put things in perspective, they did not even make finals in Beijing, and Great Britain’s program has improved immensely over the last quad. Beth Tweddle once again ripped out the top bar score of the competition. Please, please, Beth, keep another routine in the tank for bars finals! All around stars Whelan and Tunney delivered for team GB too.
Teams Italy and Japan rounded out the bottom of the eight in the team competition. Team Italy is the terrier of women’s gymnastics. Tenacious and dogged, they sink their teeth into the back of the leg, they worry and growl and they do not let go. No matter how tough things look for them throughout the season, no matter the injuries, the lack of depth at times, the incredibly juniors who do not always make it as seniors, when it comes down to the wire, Italy always produce. They make make finals, their individuals impress and they are always daring and exciting. They will be happy with this result.
Japan on the other hand, seemed a deeper, stronger program in 2008 in Beijing, where they finished fifth as a team. The following year they fielded their first all around medalist in Koko Tsurumi. Things were looking good. But somehow, in the last couple of years, Japan has seemed to lack confidence. They have difficulty, they execution, they have strong all arounders, but they do not seem to have the confidence to follow through. If they can get that back, they could be formidable.
This is how it played out;
Russia 178. 530
Romania 176. 414
Great Britain 170.495
Congratulations to all the teams, and particularly to the winners of tonight’s meet, the USA.
Article: Brigid McCarthy
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