Andy Thornton, Special to NBC Olympics
LONDON – It’s certainly no surprise that after the completion of the women’s podium training in London we find ourselves discussing the very same four teams that have battled for the world and Olympic team medals for decades – Russia, Romania, China, and the United States. The biggest question coming into these Olympic Games was – which one would actually rise to the top? Based on the performances turned in by all four of these traditional powerhouses in training, that team currently appears to be the United States.
The Americans essentially answered all of the questions surrounding this team Thursday when McKayla Maroney vaulted in the rafters, Gabby Douglas kept her nerves under control, and all three Americans nailed bars – the event that has been considered to be somewhat of a nemesis for this team. Overall, the Americans displayed the difficulty, the execution, and the consistency to establish themselves as the favorites to win the 2012 Olympic team title. One fluke fall on beam from Kyla Ross wasn’t enough to change that.
So are the Americans a shoo-in for the gold?
We’d be foolish to ever entertain such a conjecture in a sport like gymnastics, particularly under today’s team finals format, which counts an unforgiving three out of three scores on each event. We’ve more than once considered teams to be practically unbeatable on the Olympic stage, only to be blindsided in the team finals when consistency under pressure won out over apparent scoring potential. It happened to the U.S. in 2004, and arguably again in 2008.
Russia and China both have the difficulty to challenge the United States, but both can be loose cannons when the heat is on. Russia’s biggest challenge will be hitting all of the brand new daring skills they’ve just unveiled on all four events, and also standing up at least two Amanars on vault – neither of which they accomplished in podium training. China’s biggest obstacle now appears to be the health of Yao Jinnan – their team’s biggest star who contributes high scores on all four events. In podium training, she performed just basic skills on most events and suffered some uncharacteristic falls, making an injury seem likely. China’s chances to challenge the U.S. would disappear quickly without this 2011 world all-around bronze medalist in the lineup.
With a wonderful blend of youth and experience, multiple recent upgrades in difficulty, and the most consistent competitive track record of any team this year, Romania is the dark horse contender to steal a surprise Olympic gold. However, Romania’s all-around star – Larisa Iordache – is suffering from an injured heel and is also questionable to compete all four events. Romania showed the type of consistency today that pays big dividends under team finals pressure, though. If Iordache is able to compete in the all-around, this team may actually pose the biggest threat to the United States.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.