America’s Team

Today I want to talk about the five girls that make up the American team. I think they all have a role that has become clear in these Olympics.

THE MVP

Everyone has always underestimated Aly Raisman.

But that’s all over now.

Throughout team qualifications, finals and even the all around, Aly has been a rock for her team. True, she did not manage to hit beam when it mattered only for her, but as I’ve said before I actually find that pretty damn endearing.

Throughout the competition Aly has really stepped into the role formally occupied by her training partner Alicia Sacramone. She has been the perfect leader. And I love Sac, but she did have two major falls in her Olympics (which sucks, and did not in fact make the difference between silver and gold for the US women, so don’t even think about going down that road, yo).

During team qualifications, Aly went out and hit all of her routines–including bars–and she did so well. Extremely well. She talked her teammates through their routines. She told Gabby to calm down and hit beam the way Marta says to. She huddled her teammates. She performed well. And her reaction upon learning that she had made it to the AA was adorable. Mihai told her she had made it and she went “I DID? Where does it say that?” and Mihai was all “I say that.” I love watching the two of them together. Nobody can replace Chow as my favorite elite coach, but Mihai seems like a total teddy bear. I love one competition where Aly wobbled a tiny bit on beam and when Mihai asked her what happened she said she looked up and saw her mom. Mihai was all “well, don’t look up!” Hehe.

Anyway. Aly did a great job. I cannot say enough good things about her. In team finals she competed two events and was rock solid on both beam and floor (truly, AA was the only time I’ve EVER seen her screw up beam. It was a fluke, I think). And what has come across is that she is a real leader. During the AA you could tell that she really really wanted Gabby to get gold and was cheering her on like crazy. It’s telling that Aly–dependable, solid Aly–as their captain. She is solid and she is supportive, and that is what you want in an MVP.

THE GOLDEN GIRL

This one is easy. Gabby Douglas has already garnered a lot of attention in the two days since she won the Olympics. She’s actually gotten even more than the usual American AA champion. I think a big part of it is that she is the first person of color to be the WAG AA champion. That means something. There have been idiotic comments about Gabby’s har, sure, but there has also been an outpouring of support and love sent her way from the blogosphere as well as the New York Times. Gabby is an amazing gymnast, but more than that, her smile and her story–mother working extremely hard to put her daughter through gymnastics, father serving in Afganistan, daughter moving away from her family to train with a coach that smiled a lot–is exactly what Americans want in a backstory. It has everything. We love a good rags-to-riches tale in this country, and Gabby has one. I do not mean this to devalue her achievements in the slightest or to say that her story is in any way the reason she won. She won because she was the best that day. But her story is a fantastic one and its the kind that Americans eat up. Her mentions of god–which bug me a bit, if only because I wish she’d give herself the credit–appeal to another demographic. And she comes across as genuine and smiley and sweet in her interviews. She is America’s Golden Girl.

THE ROCKSTAR

There’s just something about McKayla Maroney. She’s classically beautiful. She’s incapable of taking a picture without her trademark smirk, even if sometimes its just a half smirk. America likes its rockstars, and we like them to have a bit of sass. McKayla has sass. And more than that she knows how good she is. Sometimes gymnasts talk about how they just wanted to hit for the team. McKayla did a dance after sticking that Amanar. She had a giant grin on her face that told the world she knew exactly how good it was (and it was!) And, too, the fact that she only did vaulting in these Games helps her rockstar image. McKayla went out there and did, basically, one perfect piece of gymnastics. It’s the kind of piece of gymnastics–and the kind of perfection–that sticks in the public mind. Couple that with her delightfully smirking photos and her post vault prance and you’ve got a rockstar for the public.

THE TEAM PLAYER

Jordyn Weiber‘s Olympics have obviously not gone as she had planned. As I’ve discussed, this sucks (really and truly). But Jo has come back out fighting. She was disappointed, of course, at the AA results. As well she should have been: sometimes two per country really sucks. And Jo is still the fourth best gymnast in the world, so of course she was bummed.

But she came out swinging during team finals. She did by far the best Amanar she has ever done, and I think it is true that the first routine in the competition really does make a difference. If she had fallen, it might well have made it harder for the other girls. We see that kind of domino effect more in NCAA, but it happens in elite, too. And her bars were, for her, just fine–she had to fight a bit but she always does. Her floor was just terrific. And she was a real fighter the entire time, and a real cheerleader. She was able to put aside what must have been tremendous disappointment and come out to lay it all on the line for her team. Good for her. And really, no one looked happier than her when that score was flashed.

THE UNDERRATED GRACEFUL ONE

Kyla Ross. In articles about the team she is often mentioned almost as an afterthought. She doesn’t have the same WOW factor as McKayla’s vault, or Aly’s floor, or Jo’s beam, or Gabby’s bars, which may explain it. But Kyla has been a cool, collected competitor for the entire cycle. And don’t forget, she competed on bars–the weakest event for team USA–and beam, the scariest event for everyone, in Team Finals. She led off on the latter, which can be a dangerous position. And her gymnastics may not be as exciting as some of the other athletes, but she is a beautiful, beautiful gymnast with a whole lot of grace. And she is consistent. She did as much for that gold medal as anyone, so let’s give her some kudos, OK?

Aly Raisman, 2010. Photo copyright Vanessa SV Steck.

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