LONDON — “Turning the page” is what gymnasts call it, which means forgetting what just happened, good or bad. The US women’s gymnastics team topped the table in Sunday’s qualifying round, beating the Russians by more than a point and winning on vault and balance beam.
But world champion Jordyn Wieber didn’t qualify for Thursday’s all-around, making the kind of Olympic history that nobody wants. “We have to be able to turn the page and go on to the next chapter, the team final,” said team coordinator Martha Karolyi.
If Wieber can bounce back from her disappointment and banish the hiccups, the US should win the team gold medal Tuesday for the first time since 1996 and the first time at an overseas Games. This is the third time in a row the Americans have come into the Games as world champions. In Athens they were brought down by the Romanians; in 2008 they were beaten by the host Chinese. This time the main threat comes from the Russians, who missed the medal stand for the first time in Beijing but were runners-up to the Americans at the 2011 world meet.
With former global titlist Aliya Mustafina back from the knee injury that sidelined her last year, the Motherland has drawn closer to the US but the Americans have more reliable firepower. Three of them — Needham native Aly Raisman, Gabrielle Douglas, and Wieber — ranked just behind Russian leader Victoria Komova after qualifying.
If they can perform the way they did last year when they buried the Russians by more than four points the Yanks should be as good as gold, which would validate their global consistency over the past decade that has gone unrewarded at Olympus.
“We really have to win it,” said Raisman’s coach Mihai Brestyan, whose pupil will be up last on floor, the final event. “That’s the goal of every single one.”
An event-by-event assessment:
VAULT: The Americans will be off to a flying start with McKayla Maroney, who’s the world champion and doesn’t do any other event. Along with Douglas, who had the top qualifying score, and Wieber, that should give them more than a point’s lead over the Russians whose best performer (Komova) wouldn’t make the US lineup.
UNEVEN BARS: With 2008 champion He Kexin leading the way the Chinese skywalkers have the edge over the Russians, who have the global titlist in Komova. This is the Americans’ worst apparatus, which is why Douglas, who’ll be in the event final, will have to be hands-on all the way. Wieber and Kyla Ross will need to be solid to keep the US from losing ground here.
BALANCE BEAM: The “apparatus of the devil” as coaching immortal Bela Karolyi calls it, is the event that sabotaged the Yanks in 2004, putting them out of contention before the finale. They’re decidedly better now, winning the event in qualifying with Raisman and Douglas making the event final. If they stay steady, they can pad their lead or pull ahead if they’re behind.
FLOOR EXERCISE: This is where the gold medal will be decided, one way or another. When all of their competitors — Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, and Alicia Sacramone — stepped out of bounds, the Americans lost any chance of catching the Chinese in Beijing. Floor was a flawed rotation in qualifying, too, as both Douglas and Wieber stepped out of bounds. Still, they won the event at last year’s world meet and could clinch things if they don’t succumb to irrational exuberance. Raisman, who’ll be favored for gold in the event final, figures to be spot-on. Even though Wieber cost herself an all-around spot with her miscue, she still made the event final. If she bounces back and Douglas, the “Flying Squirrel,” doesn’t get hung up in the rafters, this will be the Yanks’ grand finale.