US gymnasts may share spotlight in event finals

Associated Press
In this multiple exposure photo, U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas performs on the uneven bars during the artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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LONDON (AP) — Gabby Douglas and the rest of the Fierce Five might have to learn how to share.

After hogging the gymnastics golds to themselves so far, the Americans will find their prospects a little tougher when the event finals start Sunday.

Sure, McKayla Maroney is considered a shoo-in on vault, with the gap between her and everyone else so great it's a wonder they haven't already given the world champ the gold. But the Russians and Romanians aren't about to let this next batch of goodies go so easily, and no way China is going home empty-handed after its epic haul four years ago.

"They know they put lots of work in and they should not waste it," U.S. women's team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. "I hope we are able to keep our focus."

The Americans will have six chances to medal over the next three days, beginning with Maroney in Sunday's vault final. She won the world title by almost a half-point last year, and topped qualifying here by a similar margin. Her 16.233 in the team final is the highest score yet in the women's competition.

Maroney was so impressive in that final Tuesday that U.S. coach John Geddert suggested they rename her vault "The Maroney," and Karolyi wondered where judges found almost three-tenths worth of deductions.

"That. Was. The. Best. Ever," Karolyi said. "It definitely deserved a 10, just to make a statement she is that much better than anybody else."

And she's doing all this despite a fracture in her big right toe.

"I'm here to try to get that gold medal and I know that I can do it," Maroney said.

Douglas will get two chances to add to her pile of gold, competing on uneven bars Monday and balance beam Tuesday. Aly Raisman, who missed out on an all-around medal despite finishing with the same score as bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina, also competes on beam. But best chance for an individual medal will be on floor exercise Tuesday.

Raisman won a bronze medal on floor at last year's worlds, and had the highest qualifying score by far. She had a 15.325, while defending Olympic gold medalist Sandra Izbasa of Romania qualified with a 15.066.

Floor will also be the only shot at an individual medal for world champion Jordyn Wieber, whose failure to qualify for the all-around final was the biggest shock in the first week of competition.

The U.S. men didn't get the gold they wanted in team competition, finishing fifth, but a few individual medals can take away some of the sting. Danell Leyva already has a bronze from the all-around, and will compete on high bar Tuesday with Jonathan Horton. Jake Dalton will compete on floor Sunday, and Sam Mikulak made Monday's vault final.

China will be hard pressed to duplicate its gold rush from Beijing, where the men won all but one of the event titles and the women medaled on every apparatus but floor. The men don't have anyone in the pommel horse or vault finals, and the women failed to qualify for vault or floor exercise.

Where China did qualify, look out.

Chen Yibing isn't called the "Lord of the Rings" for nothing, winning four of the last five world titles to go with his Olympic gold from Beijing. Zou Kai is a favorite to defend his Olympic titles on floor and high bar, while Sui Lu could add a gold medal to the world title she won on balance beam last fall. He Kexin, the Olympic champion on uneven bars, is back with another stunningly difficult routine.

He's routine is going to be easy compared to tuning out the crowd. Her main competition should come from Beth Tweddle, beloved in Britain for kickstarting the country's rise in gymnastics. Tweddle's world title on uneven bars in 2006 was the country's first, and she has since added one on floor exercise (2009) and another on bars (2010).

Tweddle has yet to win an Olympic medal, and was so devastated after missing a bronze in Beijing by 0.25 points that she considered retiring. She posted the highest bars score in qualifying, and is sure to have all of Britain — to say nothing of the crowd in the O2 Arena — rooting for her Monday night.

It can be tough carrying the expectations of an entire country, but Tweddle caught a break when the British men won a surprise bronze medal. It was Britain's first team medal in 84 years.

"The boys went out and smashed," she said. "To be honest, one medal takes the pressure off me and Louis."

That would be Louis Smith, whose bronze on pommel horse four years ago was Britain's first individual medal in a century. Since then, all anyone has asked is whether he's going to upgrade that to a gold here in London.

Smith struggled the first time he competed in front of an adoring home crowd, finishing last in the pommel horse final at the 2009 world championships. But he's gotten downright comfy at the O2 since then. He ran away with the title at the test event here in January, and posted the highest score in qualifying. He did even better in the team final, where his 15.966 tied for its second-highest score.

Smith wept with joy after qualifying, so imagine what he might do if he finds himself at the top of the podium Sunday night.

"We're on new ground," he said. "We've already exceeded expectations, and we're just going to enjoy it."

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