1 GOING FOR GOLD
With a whopping 59 medals in international competition since 2001, the U.S. women are on a run not seen since the breakup of the Soviet Union. They won the world title in 2003, '07 and '11, and they have four of the past six all-around champions. At last year's worlds, the Americans claimed half of the six titles available, and there could be a similar gold rush in London. But the Americans have won only one Olympic team title, in 1996, and they have gone to each of the past two Summer Games as the world champ only to come up a step short on the podium. "Every year, we get so much stronger," reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber said. "We did so good at worlds, but I think this team is even stronger than that. I'm really excited that we have a lot of potential to win the gold medal in London."
2 INDIVIDUAL BATTLE
The U.S. stars are Wieber and Gabby Douglas, whose dazzling rise in the past six months has made for a compelling rivalry. Wieber, much like 2008 American standout Shawn Johnson, is powerful and unflappable, with no real weaknesses. She took down then-world champion Aliya Mustafina of Russia in her very first competition as a senior, and has lost only two all-around competitions since 2008, both to American teammates. Douglas finished a close second to Wieber at the U.S. championships, and again the first night of Olympic trials. But big scores on uneven bars, floor and vault pushed her past Wieber for the trials title.
3 WOUNDED RUSSIANS
Russia appeared unbeatable in 2010, with Mustafina running roughshod over the world championships. She led Russia to the team title, its first at a major international competition since the Unified Team won at the 1992 Barcelona Games. But injuries have left the Russian team a hobbled mess. Mustafina blew out her knee at the 2011 European championships, and she has shown only flashes of her ruthless brilliance since returning to competition last fall. Viktoria Komova has been slowed by a nagging ankle injury and inconsistency. Anastasia Sidorova, a member of the European team, is out because of a back injury. Anna Dementyeva, who won the 2011 European title, has been struggling to adjust to a growth spurt.
4 CHINESE MEN VULNERABLE
China has been on top of men's gymnastics for much of this century, winning five consecutive world titles as well as the gold medals at the Sydney and Beijing Olympics. But China looked vulnerable in winning the world title last fall. The Chinese finished qualifying behind Japan and the U.S. men, the first time since the 2004 Athens Olympics they had finished anywhere but first in any phase of a major competition. The reduction in team size, from six to five, figures to hurt China most, putting more of an emphasis on all-arounders, something the Chinese lack.
5 U.S. MEN CONTENDERS
The American men have been insisting for years they can make a run at gold and, for the first time since 1984, they might just have the goods to back up the big talk. It starts with talent. Jonathan Horton has two medals from the Beijing Olympics, and Danell Leyva gave the U.S. men their first world title since 2003 last fall with his gold on parallel bars. "Simply put, I think we have the talent, we've got the ability, we have the routines and the start values. The intangible part of it is we've got the spirit," Horton said. "Every single one of these guys knows how to rise to the occasion."