U.S. team will need Wieber to hold off Russians

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LONDON -- The Americans need Jordyn Wieber to regain her swagger in a hurry if they're going to hold off Russia for Olympic gold.

The two gymnastic powers have been trading places in team competition for two years and will face off again tonight for the Olympic team title.

The Russians won the world championship in 2010, then finished second to the U.S. last year.

Defending world champ Wieber failed to qualify for the all-around competition, but the U.S. women will be depending on her for a comeback if they're going to win their first team gold medal since the "Magnificent Seven" of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"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 past 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.

"She's a strong gymnast," teammate McKayla Maroney said. "She can turn it around in two seconds."

Wieber had two days.

"We're going to have to cheer her up and hype her up," teammate Gabby Douglas said.

After failing to qualify for the all-around, Wieber, 17, sobbed and was consoled by teammates. She didn't speak to reporters afterward.

Later, she posted on Twitter: "I am so proud of our team today and I can't wait for team finals!!"

O2 Arena has rocked so far, and with host nation Britain in the mix after missing the team final at the 2008 Beijing Games, the scene should be even more festive -- especially after the British captured their first Olympic team gymnastics medal in more than 80 years with a bronze in Monday's men's competition.

It's Wieber and Douglas' turn to chase that elusive team gold that even the Nastia Liukin-Shawn Johnson show of 2008 couldn't manage in Beijing, where China captured gold on its home turf.

Former world champion Aliya Mustafina and the focused Russians were the only squad to come close to challenging the U.S. team in Sunday's qualifying.

And they're so determined to beat the Americans, Russia's athletes blew through the mixed zone without even speaking to their own reporters. The word is they won't be heard from until the job is done.

The Romanians also are expected to challenge for a medal.

"I think we've definitely set the bar higher," Douglas said.

"It's just an amazing feeling to know that Team USA is definitely strong. Even myself, we've come a long way."

While the United States dominated team qualifying Sunday with a score of 181.863, the Russians are determined to keep closing the gap with the world watching. Mustafina didn't compete in the 2011 worlds because she injured her left knee at the European Championships that April -- and now she's back but still trying to regain top form. Her vault, for example, is a less difficult one than what she performed when she got hurt.

Leading up to the Games, the U.S. gymnasts considered the gold theirs for the taking after all the strides their program has made in recent years.

"I guarantee one thing: The truth is going to come out on the Olympic Games," said the renowned coach Bela Karolyi.

"The truth is that we are solidly in the first place on the team, no question about that."

But if the men's gymnastics team final gives the women anything to keep in mind, it's that a top finish in qualifying doesn't even guarantee a medal. The U.S. men's team finished first in qualifying but ended up in fifth in the final. China, which finished sixth in qualifying, rallied for the gold.

"The Olympics are always a dog fight," Penny said.

"There is something that always pops up and changes the perceived outcome. Something happens and it changes it."

olympics - sportsother


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