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Gymnastics is something of an odd duck in the sports world because it is both a team and individual sport.
You don't see Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano working together to beat the Red Sox one day and then watch them compete with each other to see who can hit the ball the fathest the next, but the Olympics will feature competitions just like that. Luckily for the United States, the ferocity of the competition on the individual level bodes well for both the men and women during the gymnastics competition in London.
The all-around competitions at both the U.S. Nationals and Olympic Trials were hotly contested, and both the men and the women saw two different competitors crowned as champs at the two events. That kind of depth has left the U.S. with two of the stronger gymnastics teams they've ever had and makes both sides medal contenders in the team events.
It also makes for some compelling viewing during the Olympic all-around. The marquee matchup is going to be Jordyn Wieber against Gabby Douglas during the women's portion of the proceedings.
This was supposed to be Wieber's golden moment after years at the top of the gymnastics program in this country, but Douglas has come on like gangbusters over the last couple of years to make it a two-woman race. Douglas won at the trials thanks to the explosiveness that has earned her the nickname "Flying Squirrel," although Wieber's steadiness is a potent counterpoint to the risk that comes with Douglas' style.
Both Douglas and Wieber, who will try to become the third straight U.S. woman to win Olympic all-around gold after losing at the trials, have the kind of personalities that will make it easy for them to vault from London into major sponsorship opportunities. Assuming the team doesn't stumble, there should be enough of those to go around.
The men's matchup probably won't draw as much coverage, but it might be an even more dramatic event because of the presence of a third contender for the crowd. John Orozco, repping the Bronx, and Danell Leyva will be battling each other as well as three-time world all-around champ Kohei Uchimura of Japan on August 1st.
New York's choice is pretty clear in that particular dance and Orozco could be peaking at just the right time after winning the trials. The men's team doesn't share the favorite status enjoyed by the women, but if Leyva and Orozco both impress they could push Japan and China for the top spot.
Douglas, Wieber, Leyva and Orozco are the biggest names to know, but they aren't all the names worth knowing. Here are a few more:
McKayla Maroney and Aly Reisman: The U.S. team went with specialists after Wieber and Douglas, which could mean even more individual medals. Maroney is the favorite in the vault while Reisman is one of the top choices to win the floor exercise.
Oksana Chusovitina: Chusovitina, representing Germany, is the defending silver medalist in the vault, but that's not why she's worth knowing. It's because she is 37, which is sort of like a 65-year-old trying to win the 100 meters in track and field.
Simona Amanar: Amanar won't be competing, she retired in 2000, but her inventiveness as a vaulter means that her name will loom large. The Amanar vault, which is easier to watch than to describe, is one that any serious medal contender needs in her arsenal and it will be a name you hear almost as much as that of any current competitor during the days of the gymnastics competition.