A look at how America stacks up against Eastern Europe
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The stage is set for a trio of women's gymnastics superpowers seeking Olympic supremacy. The United States is expected to battle Romania and Russia for team gold at the 2012 London Summer Games, where the star power is staggering and competition should be sensational.
The rivalry between the United States and Russia dates back to the tense days of the Cold War, when every athletic matchup between the countries seemed to be an international battle of its own. The breakup of the Soviet Union set the stage for the emergence of Romania, a nation seeking its third Olympic team title in women's gymnastics since 2000. Although they're a world apart, all three teams have grown rather familiar with one another recently.
The U.S. and Russian national teams battled for gold at the 2011 World Gymnastics Championships. An American squad featuring four of the five current U.S. Olympians captured top honors, while Russia settled for second place without one of the its top performers. Russia was edged for first place once again at the 2012 European Gymnastics Championships, this time by Romania. It's been a round-robin tournament of sorts between the three teams lately, and an exciting conclusion awaits at the Summer Olympics.
Gold medal-winning teams are always driven by strong individual performances. All three squads will travel to London with world-class performers who could push their country to the top of the awards podium.
Days away from the commencement of Olympic gymnastics competition, we now know which women will play pivotal roles on each team. It's time to see how the U.S. stacks up against the two squads most likely to stand in the way of America's first Olympic team gold since 1996.
U.S. vs. Russia
Russia is in the midst of an unprecedented gold-medal drought in Olympic competition. The country hasn't claimed a team title in women's gymnastics since 1988, when the Soviet Union topped Romania in Seoul, South Korea. That was the Soviets' ninth gold medal in ten Olympic Games, dating back to 1952. Since the Soviet Union's downfall brought an end to the surreal run, Russia's women's gymnastics program hasn't been nearly as intimidating.Since 1992, the team has won three medals—two silver and a bronze—but no gold. Russia was shut out at the 2008 Games in Beijing, when China, the U.S., and Romania placed first, second, and third, respectively.
The Russians are led by Viktoria Komova, who earned a gold medal on uneven bars at the 2012 European Championships and 2011 World Championships. Although bars are her strong suit, she proved her cumulative abilities by placing second in individual all-around scoring, right behind American star Jordyn Wieber. American vault sensation McKayla Maroney could give the U.S. an edge over Russia. She was the 2011 world champion in the event, while Russia failed to place a finalist in the top five.
There will be fierce competition on bars with Komova and defending world champion silver medalist Tatiana Nabieva leading the way. It's Wieber's weakest event so Team USA teammate Gabby Douglas must step up and prove her place among the world's elite as she'll look to snag valuable points away from the talented Russian duo with the Russian duo. There's a major X-factor involved with this matchup, and her name is Aliya Mustafina. The 2010 all-around World Champion missed last year's competition after suffering a devastating knee injury. The 17-year-old's ability to regain stability will be key. If healthy, Mustafina could contend with Maroney on vault (she placed second in the event at the 2010 world championships) and give Russia a premier floor performer.