We don't have too many pet peeves regarding an event as super-mega-splendiferous as the Summer Olympics, but here's one: that when it comes to medal counts, the 10-meter air pistol shooting competition* counts every bit as much as, say, a soccer tournament involving hundreds of athletes, qualifying tourneys, and dozens of games spread over more than two weeks of Olympic competition. Couldn't the team sport medals come with some kind of bonus where the medal counts are concerned?
Of course, a major reason for that pet peeve is that Team USA typically excels in team sports competition. And in 2012, nowhere is that truer than on the women's side of things, where the evidence of the past few weeks is that the Americans are poised to dominate. Of the six true women's team sports competitions**, the U.S.A. is the gold medal favorite in four, ranging from "definitely the favorite" to "just this side of a mortal lock."
Breaking down that aforementioned evidence sport-by-sport:
Soccer. It doesn't make up for last summer's penalty-kick defeat in the World Cup final, but the U.S. decisively answered which team would be favored in an Olympic rematch vs. Japan with a 4-1 dismantling of the Japanese in a Monday friendly. The U.S.'s pressing style severely disrupted the Japanese's preferred controlled passing game, and Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan cemented their burgeoning reputation as the world's most dangerous striking tandem with two goals each.
It's not just the numbers, either--there's little better testament to the kind of form Wambach is in than this stunning goal in Saturday's 3-1 win over World Cup semifinalist Sweden (like the Japan friendly, held in Sweden):
The Japanese will still be a formidable foe in London -- they'd defeated and drawn the U.S. in the teams' previous meetings this year -- but since that 1-1 draw on April 1, the USWNT have won four straight games by at least two goals each, with a combined score of 14-3. The victims in that streak (Brazil, China, Sweden, and Japan) were hardly pushovers, either; on current form, the U.S. is the best team in the world. Now they just have to keep playing like it.
Volleyball. The U.S. entered June's FIVB World Grand Prix as the No. 1 team in the world and have played the part to the hilt, defeating No. 2-ranked Brazil Sunday three games to one to move to a perfect 6-0 in the tournament. Former Texas Longhorn Destinee Hooker (pictured at top) has been the attacking star, but many of the U.S.'s usual suspects -- including veteran Logan Tom and captain Lindsey Berg -- have been at the top of their game as well. To quote USA Volleyball:
During the 2012 FIVB World Grand Prix, the U.S. has now defeated No. 2 Brazil, No. 4 Italy, No. 8 Germany twice, No. 9 Dominican Republic and No. 28 Chinese Taipei while losing just two sets.
Is that a gold medal level of play? It looks like it from here.
Basketball. The American women haven't hit the court since a 100-62 bludgeoning of China on May 12 and won't convene for their final tuneup practices until mid-July, meaning the team's biggest headline made of late was the discrimination lawsuit brought against coach Geno Auriemma. But this is the same roster with Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird, Lindsay Whalen, Candace Parker ... I mean, just look at it. You or I could coach this team to a gold medal***. We're guessing a somewhat-slightly-distracted Auriemma can manage.
Until further notice, USA women's hoops remains what we'll go ahead and call the heaviest team favorites at the London Games.
Water Polo. The U.S. women's water polo team may not be as heavily favored as the three teams above--the U.S. placed sixth in last year's World Championships and has an unfortunate history of coming up just short under the pressure of the Olympics. But those World Championships happen to be the only major tournament over the past three years the U.S. hasn't won, and like the soccer and volleyball teams they appear to be rounding into form at the right time. The Americans won the FINA World League Super Final 6-4 over old rivals Australia at the start of this month, only two games after routing world power Italy 14-2.
Though a deep field means there's no decisive favorite, the U.S. is as smart a pick as any--particularly if in-form goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong continues to anchor what's likely the world's best defense.
*No offense, highly skilled and completely deserving 10-meter air pistol medalists. But some event has to serve as the counter-example here, and when ranking the Olympics' "glamour" events, well ...
**The other two? Field hockey (in which a U.S. medal would be a surprise) and team handball, in which the U.S. failed to qualify.
***By getting the hell out of the way, of course.