LONDON -- The U.S. women’s gymnastics team has stressed for months its depth is the key to its dominance.
Now it has to make sure that depth doesn’t accidentally lead to its downfall.
Sure, the Americans rolled to victory in Olympic team qualifying on Sunday, posting a score of 181.863 that only Russia came even remotely close to threatening.
But the image of world champion Jordyn Wieber leaving the floor in tears after failing to advance to the individual all-around final will be hard to shake. Beaten out by teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, the ever-composed Wieber crumbled when she realized her dreams of joining the likes of Olympic gold medalists Nastia Liukin, Mary Lou Retton and Carly Patterson evaporated in a series of uncharacteristic miscues.
Now, Wieber has to find a way to regroup in time to help the U.S. capture its first team title since the "Magnificent Seven" in Atlanta 16 years ago.
"This is the beauty of our program," USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said. "On any given day one of the girls on our team can do it."
True, except for the last three years, that one girl has almost always been Wieber. She’s only lost twice in competition since 2009, both times to fellow Americans. And she’s never finished behind two teammates in the same meet.
Not until Sunday at least. How she’ll respond is anybody’s guess.
Wieber will get two days.
She might need every minute of it.
The 17-year-old is the star the U.S. program has orbited around during the last three years, leading the Americans to a world title in Tokyo last fall.
She kept it going this spring and summer, with Douglas’ emergence giving the U.S. a one-two punch few teams can match.
An all-around showdown in London between Wieber and Douglas has been looming for months. They’ve taken turns gracing the covers of national magazines trying to duplicate the showdown between Liukin and Shawn Johnson in Beijing four years ago.
Consider Douglas the winner by technical knockout.
The rules allow just two gymnasts per country to compete in the individual all-around finals. Raisman’s rock-solid floor exercise on the heels of sloppy routines by both Douglas and Wieber allowed the U.S. captain to leapfrog her more heralded teammates and into the finals.
Even Raisman was stunned, barely blinking during interviews as she tried to balance the greatest day of her career against her best friend’s bitter disappointment.
"It’s really hard," Raisman said. "That was kind of like my first thought. I was really happy but then at the same time I feel bad just because I know how bad (Wieber) wanted it."
And if it’s gold Wieber wants, there’s still gold to be had.
Just like the U.S. men, who will go for their first Olympic gold since 1984 in the team final on Monday, the ultimate prize has never been individual medals but the one that ends up with five girls standing atop the podium singing "The Star Spangled Banner."