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US team's medal hopes hinge on Wieber
The US women’s gymnastics team, on the cusp of claiming only the second team gold in American history, enters Tuesday’s team finals with one person on whom everything could turn: Jordyn Wieber.
This is the best women’s squad America has produced since the Magnificent Seven won the country’s only team gold medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. But its most talented teammate faces the most important question of her life.
Does Wieber, who missed out on the all-around finals at Sunday’s qualifying, focus on the death of her dream or on the team that needs her to take it to the top of the podium?
Let us hope she is ready. This team is so deep that its dominating qualifying performance could very well serve as a prelude to a triumphant Tuesday worthy of the millions of Americans who will be hanging on the group's every moment.
Aly Raisman and Gabrielle Douglas, the two teammates who bested Wieber in the all-around qualifiers, give the American three of the best four gymnasts on earth. McKayla Maroney is a vaulting specialist who is absolutely the best on earth at what she does — a mix of power and grace so compelling that watching her routine can take your breath away. Even young Kyla Ross, who will compete in uneven bars and balance beam, has all-world talent.
But it’s on Wieber that this team’s fortune hangs, just as it’s on Wieber — heartbroken, devastated, perhaps distracted — who must be its leader. She is the reigning world all-around champion, the US woman with the most international experience, and the teammate most able to put the weight of this opportunity on her shoulders and take the Americans home to gold.
“We have to be able to turn the page and go on with the next chapter — the team final,” said Marta Karolyi, the national team coordinator. “This is what happens when you have so many high-level gymnasts on one team. I think Alexandra and Gabrielle had just a better day than Jordyn had.”
Yes, but it is Jordan’s performance Tuesday that will dictate everything. So let’s start by politely asking her coach, John Gebbert, to keep his mouth shut, or at least focused on the task on hand, until the team finals are over.
His remarks Monday that the rule allowing only two women per country into the all-around individual finals is an “injustice” is an injustice itself: A slap to a team that must have its star forget, at least for now, what she has lost. Gebbert pushes only a single-minded focus on something that is already gone. Wieber will not be an all-around medalist, and so the time for that talk is over.
But she can bring home gold. And everyone around her must put the spotlight on that truth.
Talk about that, Gebbert, or don’t talk at all.
It is rare we turn to the young girls who make up these teams to give its coaches wisdom, but Douglas had it right Sunday.
“We kinda have to deal with disappointment,” she said. “It is what it is."
Yes. It is what it is. And it turns out it’s this: The US gymnasts need to win this. It is their moment. It is the right team, it is the right time, it is within the team's grasp. What was accomplished in 1996 can be done again here.
They’re called once-in-a-lifetime moments for a reason, and on Tuesday all of us will have the chance to watch one unfold knowing that this can — this should — happen.
“That’s the most important thing now,” coach Mihai Brestyan said. “We really have to win it. That’s the goal of every single one. We have the lineup and we won’t change that. We just need to keep our gymnasts to stay focused and hopefully they will be back in better shape (Tuesday).”
The road to gold looks like this: On the vault, Wieber, Douglas and Maroney, a startling group. On the uneven bars, Wieber, Ross and Douglas will be excellent. Ross, Douglas and Raisman will take the balance beam. On the floor exercise, Douglas, Wieber and Raisman can be among the field’s finest in the event.
That means Jordyn Wieber, star of the team, will have three chances to flash her brilliance in pursuit of glory. This is the moment America chases one of the rarest of gold medals. To catch it, the team needs her at her most focused, her most able.
The team needs her at her best: Thinking only of her team.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.
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