Gymnastics is one of those Olympics sports that lots of people watch every four years, meaning whatever happens during the competition is exciting and surprising but also confusing. Who are these women? Which one is the underdog? The veteran? Who is good at what thing? How can I tell when a flippy thing was good? Relax. Let the expert fans at The Atlantic Wire explain. The members of the women's 2012 Olympic team were announced Sunday night, and it's time for you to get to know them.
The Underdog: Gabby Douglas. Douglas is perfect for the underdog role -- bubbly personality, amazing backstory. (She left her family in Virginia Beach to train in Iowa, and her father was deployed to Afghanistan last year.) Expect a lot of sappy NBC mini-bios scored with melodramatic piano music to focus on Douglas. (These are called fluffs on the gymternet.) Douglas only became a star in the last few months, and won the Olympic trials Sunday night. (Photo via Reuters.)
What she's good at: Douglas is technically strong on all the events, but she shines on bars. She's most known for this, called a piked Tkachev, as seen in this image via the excellent tumblr Gymnastics GIFs. It's good because she gets such incredible height.
And she also pirouettes beautifully like this:
When she stays on the beam, her flips are high, her legs are straight, her toes are pointed -- all stuff judges are looking for when scoring routines.
And smiling. When she won trials, she celebrated by doing the Dougie, via Aaron Meier:
Weakness: In boy sports, when an athlete or team has amazing talent but can't put it together in a competition, he's called a "choke artist." In gymnastics, the term is "headcase." Last year, Douglas had a tendency to headcase on beam. Now, she still wobbles a bit up there from time to time, but has shown huge improvement in her ability to not fall off. Still, in training she looks like this, a full-twisting back flip, from Stanastia:
But in competition she often wobbles like this, from Gymnastics GIFs:
The Favorite: Jordyn Wieber. The first thing you notice about Wieber is that she's straight-up jacked. (Her coach John Geddert says that even as a little kid, Wieber was incredibly strong.) You can see that in her powerful tumbling, which helped her win the national title twice and the world championships last year. She's not a natural on bars, and relies on her crazy strength to make her routine worth more points. Wieber, 16, has won every all-around competition (that's when you add up all four events) she's competed in since 2008 -- except Sunday night. (Photo via Twitter.)
What she's good at: Tumbling on floor. Here's a double-twisting double back flip, via the tumblr starkofwinterfell:
She's good at vault too. This is called an Amanar, the end part is one-and-a-half flips plus two-and-a-half twists:
Weiber does several of the hardest skills in a row on beam:
Weakness: Bars. Wieber depends on her strength, instead of a natural swinging ability, to get through her bar routine. If she makes a mistake, it can easily lead to another.
Most Dependable: Aly Raisman. Raisman, 18, is also super-strong, and is known for never falling in competition. (Photo via Twitter.)
What she's good at: Floor. Raisman is one of the most powerful tumblers in the world. She dances to Hava Nagila, and her first pass in her floor routine looks like this, via Gymnastics GIFs:
In gymnastics, that's a one-and-a-half through to a double Arabian punch front layout. In regular human words, that's a roundoff, one-and-a-half twisting flip into another roundoff, backhand spring, half-twisting double flip, into another flip. Here's another, via monigymnastics:
Weakness: Raisman isn't known for being graceful. She tends to get deductions for flexed feet on bars and beam. But she's getting better at the dance thing:
Most Elegant: Kyla Ross. The Olympics will be Ross's first major international competition as a senior, because she only turns 16 this year. (Photo via Associated Press.)
What she's good at: She's known for being elegant -- look at her flexibility here, via monigymnastics:
Ross will probably be used in the team competition on beam and bars:
She scores very well on bars:
Weakness: Floor. Ross isn't as powerful a tumbler as some of her teammates.
Specialist: McKayla Maroney. Maroney has an appealing baby diva quality, as you can see here:
What she's good at: Vault. Maroney will likely compete floor and vault in the team competition, but vault is her best event. She's last year's world champion on the event, and has a very good chance of winning vault at the Olympics. Here's her specialty, from What Should Gym Fans Call Me (of course that exists):
In slow motion:
It's good because she travels high and far, and her legs are stick straight the whole time. Like Wieber's vault, this is one-and-a-half flips with two-and-a-half twists. Okay, just one more time, via All Your Secrets:
Weaknesses: Bars and beam.
Want more gymnastics? Check out our other GIF guides:
- What to Watch For in the Women's Gymnastics All-Around Finals, in GIFs