|McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber dominated the Olympic team finals. (AP)|
The cereal boxes are probably being printed as we speak. But for the 2012 gold medal champion U.S. women's gymnastics team, we should probably find a grocery product a little more exciting than bland wheat flakes. Could we splash them across the label of Dom Perignon bottles? Make them the logo of the U.S. grain-fed free-ranged organic filet mignon industry? Print their image on the lids of jars of caviar?
That's how high-end the "Fab Five"'s performance was Tuesday, but the problem with that analogy is that in no way is this team an acquired, high-end taste: between Gabby Douglas's chirpy, quirky charisma, McKayla Maroney's appealing straightforwardness, and the humanity Jordyn Wieber put on display Sunday when eliminated from the individual all-around finals, there likely isn't a more immediately appealing American team at the Olympics. We'll be shocked if that cereal box is the only place you see their smiling faces in the weeks to come.
Of course, focusing on their mass-marketing appeal does them the disservice of overlooking Tuesday's dominating, instant-classic performance where that appeal earns them little-to-nothing: out on the vault, bars, beam, and floor. Even mentioning it is a disservice, in some ways. On the outside, they're cute, but on the inside, they're cold-blooded competitors! isn't exactly the most innovative angle when it comes to U.S. gymnastics coverage.
But when it comes to this particular team, it's worth mentioning because they're this "cute" while being the most cold-blooded collection of gymnasts Team USA has ever fielded. The 1996 "Magnificent Seven" got tagged with that particular moniker first-and-foremost because there were, you know, seven of them, but that doesn't mean they weren't magnificent. After Tuesday, though, we'll daresay the 2012 edition is more fabulous, though, than that group ever were.
1. That 1996 team needed Kerri Strug's iconic final vault to win the gold, one they earned by less than a point--389.225 to Russia's (it's always Russia's) 388.404 under the old scoring system. Not the slimmest possible margin, maybe, but a far cry from 2012's 5.66-point rout, where Wieber's and Aly Raisman's meet-concluding floor routines would have had to end with a crash into the judges' table to lose the gold. The 1996 team was the best in the world. The 2012 team is the best in the world, and it's not close.
2. Shannon Miller was a fine, fine gymnast, the silver medalist at the 1992 Games in the individual all-around and the second-highest scorer in the 1996 team finals. But that team's biggest strength was its depth, with Strug, Dominique Dawes, Dominique Moceanu, and Jaycie Phelps all capable of putting up key scores. But the 2012 edition has that same depth, thanks to Maroney's vaulting and Kyla Ross's contributions, plus the firepower of Douglas, Raisman, and Wieber. After Tuesday, that trio almost inarguably represents three of the world's top four or five all-around gymnasts. The only team that could really dream of beating them was themselves.
3. The U.S. blew the field away in the vault Tuesday, but that was hardly the only apparatus where they excelled, posting the competition's highest score on both the beam and the floor--the latter even though something far meeker would have still given them the gold. It's a point in the 1996 team's favor that they never finished third in any of the four events (the 2012's took third on the uneven bars), but they also only "won" two of the four events ... and, of course, didn't win any of them the way the Fab Five won vault.
Stack it up, and what you saw Tuesday was what was expected to be the greatest team American gymnastics performance of all-time and was the greatest team American gymnastics performance of all-time. You don't need to look any further than the U.S. men's deeply disappointing performance -- only two days after topping the standings in the qualification rounds -- to know how badly the weight of expectation can poison a gymnastics performance, but under twice the pressure, the U.S. women shrugged it off like so much meager dirt on their shoulders.
We're looking forward to seeing them on their cereal box, don't get us wrong. But this is now the best U.S. gymnastics team of all time, men or women. Where they belong is in the brightest pages of the U.S. Olympic history books.