This was, we have been told, the deepest women's gymnastics team that the United States has ever sent to the Olympics.
On Sunday, that became a potential problem.
Only two girls from the US team can qualify for the Olympic all-around final – the event that made Mary Lou and Nastia and Nadia gymnasts who no longer needed a last name. In London, it turns out, neither of the American girls on the mat will be named Jordyn.
Jordyn Wieber, the 2011 all-around world champion and a strong favorite to win gold in the all-around here, finished with the third-highest score on the American team in its qualification round Sunday. Now, Ms. Wieber will be sitting in the stands Thursday night when Gabrielle Douglas and Alexandra Raisman compete for the all-around title that many thought would be hers.
From the perspective of Team USA, gold-medal hopes in the all-around are not dashed. Earlier this month, Ms. Douglas topped Wieber at the Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif. – though by only 0.1 points. Douglas could certainly win gold. But she had been seen as being less consistent than Wieber. In Ms. Raisman, the US team has someone perhaps more consistent than Douglas but less thrilling.
In Wieber and Douglas, the US was setting up a story line eerily similar to Beijing – a potential 1-2 punch of gymnasts equally gifted yet completely opposite. Wieber, the powerful technician, is all about business – strong as a racehorse and built to win. Douglas is all smiles and sunshine, a lithe leaper whose flexible contortions express the joy within.
It seemed set to be an irresistible event.
Then Wieber stumbled Saturday, literally. She was shaky on the balance beam, then stepped out on her floor routine. The scores were not catastrophic. In fact, with four of the five qualifying groups finished, her 60.032 would have been the top score for any other team except Russia, and there it would have been second. In other words, she only missed the all-around because her teammates were better than every other gymnast in the world, save one Russian.
That would seem to bode well for the team event Tuesday. Indeed, the cumulative US score Sunday was more than a point better than Russia and a whopping 5 points better than No. 3 China. The question is: How will Wieber manage the disappointment?
On Sunday, her team prevented her from competing for a life-long dream.
On Tuesday, her team cannot win without her.