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More Gold on the Way: Previewing the Event Finals for the U.S. Gymnasts

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The U.S. gymnastics teams are having an unbelievable run in London. The women won team gold, and Gabby Douglas picked up an all-around gold medal. The men qualified first for the team finals, and though they failed to capitalize on it, Dannell Leyva came back and won an all-around bronze for Team USA. The final medals for artistic gymnastics will be awarded in the individual event competitions. Men's floor exercise, men's pommel horse, and women's vault will be decided on August 5, men's rings, men's vault, and women's uneven bars on August 6, and men's parallel bars, men's horizontal bar, women's balance beam, and women's floor exercise on August 7. All of the U.S. gymnasts except John Orozco and Kyla Ross will compete in at least one event final. While some are easily expected to win, other members of the U.S. squad could fight their way onto the podium.

Men's Events

One of the best events to watch will be men's high bar, filled with plenty of crowd-pleasing release moves. Leyva has a good shot at medalling: he placed third in qualifiers, just one-tenth of a point behind the Netherlands' Epke Zonderland in first and China's Zhang Chenglong in second. His high bar score in the all-around was the highest of the night, but Zonderland and Zhang were not in that competition. If Leyva hits his releases, gets his handstands as close to vertical as possible, and makes a statement by sticking his landing, he should medal. He'll also be facing competition from his U.S. teammate, Jonathan Horton. Horton won silver on high bar at the 2008 Olympics and is looking to land on the podium again. He qualified for the event in fifth place, behind Germany's Fabian Hambuechen in fourth. Horton will need the routine of his life to place in the top three against such strong competitors, but he's looking for redemption after the men's team finals performance and just might do it.

Sam Mikulak gets a chance in the spotlight in the vault finals. He qualified fourth, behind strong gymnasts from Russia, South Korea, and Chile, but he's still working off an ankle injury he sustained at the Olympic Trials at the end of June. If he "pulls a Maroney" by sticking his landing, he stands a chance to medal. Mikulak's teammate Jake Dalton also qualified to an event final: he will be competing on floor, along with men's all-around winner Kohei Uchimura and China's Zou Kai. Dalton qualified in fourth, tying with Israel's Alexander Shatilov. Dalton's routine really wowed the judges and crowd at the Olympic Trials, so with some more magic, he too could be a medal contender.

Women's Events

Barring a horrific fall, there is no way world vault champion McKayla Maroney should not win gold in the vault final. Her soaring Amanar completely blows the competition away, and if she sticks the landing like she did in team finals, she is unbeatable. Maroney's qualifying score was low for her, a 15.8, so expect to see something closer to the 16.233 she garnered at the team competition. Interestingly, Maroney was the only U.S. gymnast to attempt to qualify for the vault final. The second place qualifier, Sandra Izbasa of Romania, only scored a 15.316. Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, and Douglas all perform Amanars and regularly score in the 15.8s and 15.9s, so even though they're not vault specialists, it's a little surprising they wouldn't enter an event where they would practically be guaranteed a medal. The most likely explanation is that each gymnast is saving her valuable practice time for her own top event.

Jordyn Wieber missed out on the all-around, but she'll have a chance to add to her medal collection in the floor exercise final. Her qualifying score was low, just a 14.666, but that included a step out of bounds. In the team competition, she scored a 15.0 after hitting her routine and sticking most of her landings. In order for Wieber to medal, she'll have to get past Izbasa, who won gold on floor in Beijing, and Russia's Ksenia Afanasyeva, the current world champion on floor. Her biggest competitor will be Raisman, who qualified in first by a decisive margin, 15.325 to Izbasa's 15.066. Izbasa's floor score topped Raisman's by a small margin in the all-around competition, 15.2 to Raisman's 15.133. Considering Raisman also scored a 15.3 in the team final with the same floor routine, it seems likely that her all-around performance was underscored. She'll have a chance to prove she deserved a higher number in the event finals.

All-around champion Douglas will return for two event finals. She will compete on bars, where her performance has garnered her the nickname the "Flying Squirrel". She bested her qualifying score of 15.333 in the all-around, where she scored a 15.733 on bars, but she has a long list of competitors with scores equal to or better than hers. Hometown favorite Beth Tweddle of Great Britain scored a huge 16.133 in qualifiers, and Chinese gymnasts He Kexin and Yao Jinnan also did well with 15.966 and 15.766 respectively. Douglas will also face familiar rivals Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina from Russia. Komova and Mustafina both put up fantastic bars numbers in the all-around competition, so Douglas will need to fly high to beat this pack.

Like pommel horse for the men, the balance beam is usually the most challenging area for female gymnasts. Just four inches wide, the beam causes more falls than any other apparatus. Both Douglas and Raisman are in the event finals for beam, but their scores will depend more on luck rather than skill. Douglas has been surprisingly consistent on beam in the last few competitions, hitting all of her skills with only minor balance checks, but she's had some scary falls in the past. Raisman hit great routines in qualifiers and team finals, but in the all-around, she landed one skill off-balance and had to put her hands on the beam to avoid falling off. Douglas and Raisman are both capable of top scores, along with Komova, Sui Lu of China, and Catalina Ponor of Romania. The beam final will come down to who stays on the apparatus.

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