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US men’s and women’s gymnastics teams are real medal contenders

By Diane Pucin, Los Angeles Times –

Here come the medals.

That should be the motto of the U.S. men’s and women’s Olympic gymnastics teams as the trials selection process has been completed.

The women will be led by a pair of 16-year-olds, Gabrielle Douglas and Jordyn Wieber, and every member of the five-woman team except Kyla Ross, who was a year too young, contributed to the world championship team gold a year ago.

The U.S. men finished less than a point behind silver medalist Japan at those worlds in Tokyo and only about two points behind world champion China.

“I think we can compete for gold,” U.S. Coach Kevin Mazeika said Sunday. “As long as I can remember, this was the hardest selection to make because we have so many good gymnasts.”

Peter Vidmar, a member of the last U.S. men’s team to win Olympic gold (in 1984), said it should not be a surprise if both the men’s and women’s teams get gold in London. “The women are so strong,” Vidmar said, “so deep. And the men? What can I say?”

As well as producing two teams that are probably favored to win medals, the U.S. trials also showcased two women and two men who will fight for all-around medals.

Douglas outperformed the reigning world champion by beating Wieber over four rounds of competitions at the U.S. nationals and Olympic trials. Her combination of graceful work on the uneven bars and balance beam, her power tumbling on the floor and her big-swinging ability on uneven bars will please international judges, said U.S. women’s team coordinator Martha Karolyi.

“I think we have two of the best in Gaby and Jordyn,” Karolyi said Sunday night.

The Americans’ toughest all-around competition is expected to come from a pair of Russian world champions, Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina. Each won three gold medals during the Russian Cup, the final chance for them to prove their worthiness to the Russian selection committee.

Mustafina is a question mark, according to Bela Karolyi, who keeps close watch on international competition. She tore a knee ligament in April 2011 and, Karolyi said, “She hasn’t been the same gymnast since.”

Bela Karolyi said members of the U.S. team, which also includes Aly Raisman and Southern Californians Ross and McKayla Maroney, could be in the running for individual event medals. Douglas, Wieber and Raisman could medal in floor exercise; Douglas and Ross on even bars; Wieber and maybe Ross on vault; and Maroney, who is the defending world champion, in vault.

“This is the deepest team in the world,” Karolyi said. “We’ll see what the Chinese bring.”

Romania is also expected to challenge for a women’s team medal with a group led by Catalina Ponar, who was a triple gold medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics before being sidelined by injuries, and 15-year-old Larisa Iordache. The Romanians recently beat the Russians at the European championships.

“It was a good rehearsal for London,” Romanian Coach Octavian Belu said after the meet. “We saw the Russians; now we have to see the Americans and Chinese.”

One medal that seems predestined is the men’s all-around gold medal. Japan’s Kohei Uchimura won the all-around at last year’s world championships by a large margin and is the defending Olympic silver medalist.

“To beat Kohei will be tough,” said Jon Horton, the only 2008 veteran on the U.S. men’s team. “I like our guys, (Danell) Leyva and (John) Orozco, but you have to be pretty perfect to get close to Kohei.”

A dark horse men’s team contender might be the home favorite British team, led by Louis Smith. He became the first individual British gymnast in 80 years to win an individual Olympic medal when he earned bronze on the pommel horse four years ago.

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