As a team, the Americans lived up to their billing as heavy favorites in Olympic gymnastics.
Except for world champion Jordyn Wieber.
The U.S. women breezed through qualifying Sunday, throwing down a challenge to Russia, Romania and defending Olympic champion China. Wieber, however, will miss out on the all-around final after finishing behind Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. Countries are limited to two gymnasts in the all-around and event finals
The team final is Tuesday, and the scoring starts from scratch.
The Americans have entered the last two Olympics as world champions, only to leave without a gold medal. But this team is stronger, top to bottom, than the 2004 and even 2008 squads, and it has a swagger LeBron and his buddies would appreciate. They know they're good — routing Russia by four points at last year's worlds — and they don't much worry about anyone else.
The setup worked in their favor, too, with the Americans starting on vault, their strongest event.
All four of the Americans do Amanars, one of the toughest vaults in the world — a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the table and 2.5 twisting somersaults before landing. It's got a start value — the measure of difficulty — of 6.5, a whopping 0.7 above the vault most other gymnasts will do, and it gives the USA a massive advantage after just one event.
Even worse for rivals, the Americans make those vaults look easy. Gabby Douglas' toes were so pointed in the air she looked like a directional arrow while McKayla Maroney's legs were ruler straight. Each American took a hop on their landing, but it was a minor deduction and the U.S. left the event with a score of 47.633.
They held their own on uneven bars thanks to Douglas and Ross, who missed last year's world championships because she was too young and now flits between bars like a hummingbird, weightless and graceful. Douglas, dubbed "The Flying Squirrel" by national team coordinator Martha Karolyi because of her release moves, wowed the crowd by flipping so high above the bar she could have changed the overhead lights.
Her feet slammed into the mat on her dismount, and delighted coach Liang Chow sprinted around the end of the podium, pumping his fist.
Douglas scored a 15.333, and the Americans were cruising.
But Wieber was already showing signs of trouble. The U.S. champion came in as the heavy favorite for gold, having lost only two all-around competitions since 2008 — both to U.S. teammates. But she lost to Douglas at the Olympic trials earlier this month, and wasn't her normal rock-solid self.
She had a form break on a handstand on uneven bars, and a few wobbles on balance beam. After Ross and Douglas flew out of bounds on floor exercise, Wieber got way too much power on one of her tumbling passes and had to take a step back to steady herself. Only problem: It was out of bounds, and the deduction all but ended any chance she had of staying in the top two.