Philadelphia, PA – After grabbing eight medals in Beijing, the U.S. women are primed to win more hardware in gymnastics at the London Olympics.
Four years ago it was Shawn Johnson capturing four medals for the Americans, but last month she announced her retirement from competitive gymnastics, partly due to a knee injury. Nastia Liukin had five medals in Beijing, but she won't be going to London to compete this time around after struggling at the U.S. trials.
Instead, the focus will be on teenagers Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross, who at the age of 15 is the youngest member of the team.
The U.S. women were the 2011 world champions, and the favorite to win gold for the second time in team history. If they accomplish the feat, they'll join the magical performance of Kerri Strug and the 1996 squad in Atlanta.
There are a total of 14 medal events, which includes the team and individual competitions for both the men and women with 196 athletes. The men's individual apparatus are floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar. The women compete in the vault, uneven bars
The Americans won by more than four points over defending champion Russia at the 2011 world championship, led by all-around gold medalist Wieber.
From the small city of DeWitt, Mich., Wieber has busted onto the national and international scene in a big way, winning gold in Tokyo and also capturing the all-around gold at this year's Pacific Rim Championships and at the Visa Championships. She also thrives on floor exercise and has a chance to give the U.S. its first Olympic gold in that category.
It's a good bet Douglas will medal in uneven bars, while Maroney is a favorite to win gold in the vault after doing so at the 2011 World Championships. Raisman took bronze on the floor in Tokyo, while Ross excels on the uneven bars and balance beam.
Internationally, Russia figures to give the U.S. women a stiff test as its team includes 2011 world floor champion Ksenia Afanasyeva and 2010 world all- around winner Aliya Mustafina. Russia was shut out of medals four years ago.
Teams from Romania, China and Japan in the women's competition should make a run at team gold. China, which won the team gold four years ago, has returning Olympian Deng Linlin. He Kexin, who won gold on uneven bars in Beijing, is also expected to be part a Chinese squad that won 14 medals in its home country, including nine gold.
The U.S. men have a tough task ahead of them going into London. Jonathan Horton was part of the bronze medal-winning team four years ago and captured a silver on horizontal bar, Joining him are Jake Dalton, Danell Leyva, Sam Mikulak and John Orozco.
Past injuries could be a concern for the men, though. Horton suffered a torn ligament and a pair of broken bones in his foot last October and had surgery, but has worked his way back. Mikulak sprained his ankle while competing on the vault at the U.S. trials. Orozco tore his Achilles two years ago, but looked strong in winning the all-around competition at this year's U.S. Championships.
On the international side for the men, China has won gold two of the last three Summer Games in the team event. Japan, which garnered a silver four years ago and gold in 2004, also has a strong team.
Five women and one man will compete for Canada. Nathan Gafuik is the lone male to garner an Olympic spot, while Kristina Vaculik, Victoria Moors, Brittany Rogers, Dominique Pegg, and Ellie Black represent the women for Team Canada. Canada has never won an artistic medal in gymnastics at the Olympics.
This portion of the gymnastics program consists of one gold medal possibility for the men and women with 36 athletes competing at the North Greenwich Arena.
China's He Wenna won the women's event four years ago with Canadian Karen Cockburn taking silver. Cockburn, a three-time Olympic medalist with a bronze in 2000 and silver in 2004, is expected to challenge for gold in London.
Savannah Vinsant will participate for the U.S. on the women's side and Steven Gluckstein for the men.
Lu Chunlong of China won gold four years ago and Canadian Jason Burnett the silver. Burnett has qualified for the Olympics again for his home country.
There will be 96 athletes participating in the rhythmic portion of gymnastics. The event, which consists of individual and group events for women, is highlighted by competitors using elements of ballet, gymnastics, theatrical dance, and apparatus manipulation. Gymnasts use a rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon during the event.
Four years ago, Evgeniya Kanayeva of Russia won the gold medal, while her country captured the team all-around event.
Three-time world silver medalist Daria Kondakova will make a push to dethrone Kanayeva this time around, if she's healthy enough. Kondakova had surgery earlier this year for an old cruciate ligament injury, and was in doubt to compete at the Olympics.
A Russian has won the gold medal in three straight Olympics, starting with Yulia Barsukova in 2000 and Alina Kabaeva at the 2004 Games in Athens. In fact, Russians have captured five of the last possible nine individual medals at the Summer Games.
Julie Zetlin headlines the field for the U.S. team.
Since the team portion came into play in 1996, Russia has captured gold the last three times.