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Kovacevic: U.S. Olympic hero needed

| Monday, July 30, 2012, 12:06 a.m.
U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber cries after she failed to qualify for the women's all-around gymnastics finals at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Sunday, July 29, 2012, in London. (AP)

LONDON — Through the first couple days of Olympics, here's what we know for certain about the U.S. delegation: The women are good at soccer, and the women and those NBA guys are really, really good at basketball.

And that's wonderful.

As McKeesport's Swin Cash was telling me over the weekend, “People kind of like to cheer against American teams, but in the end, there's always that respect. We like that.”

She's right, of course, that we do. Americans always have been, always will be about team sports. We're funny like that.

But the Olympics, for the most part, don't reward the collective. Team golds count for exactly one in the medals standings. Even though LeBron James and Kobe Bryant get to keep their slices of gold, their victory would mean just as much to the U.S. Olympic Committee's broader mission as the one Kim Rhode took in skeet shooting Sunday.

Even in the abstract sense, the Games are about individuals. They're about the fastest, strongest or toughest man or woman in a given event.

And let's be candid here: In that regard, this is a budding disappointment.

That's not to take away from Rhode or, later in the evening, Dana Vollmer's world-record swim to gold in the 100-meter butterfly. Nor from Ryan Lochte's gold the previous night.

But good luck trying to identify the American of these Olympics, now or to come.

Sunday brought us the trembling tears of 17-year-old Jordyn Wieber, who astoundingly failed to qualify for the all-around gymnastics final.

To say she was favored would be hugely understated, and not just because she was NBC's anointed sweetheart and cover girl for Sports Illustrated. Wieber was the defending world champion and had lost only two all-arounds since 2008. This was supposed to be a breeze.

But after opening OK on the vault and bars, she struggled on the beam and basically fell apart on the floor, lowlighted by a slip out of bounds.

Total disaster.

The kid wept uncontrollably afterward, all the way from the floor through the media zone without speaking to print reporters, and didn't re-emerge. USA Gymnastics issued a statement in which she said she was “a little disappointed.”

It wasn't a little.

Her coach, John Geddert, found far more accurate words: “She has trained her entire life for this day, and to have it turn out anything less than she deserves is going to be devastating.”

Note the future tense. The two girls who did qualify, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, aren't the same caliber. The Chinese, Romanians and Russians will be licking their lips.

If Wieber somehow bounces back, she could become the one, I suppose. We're all suckers for a comeback story.

Sunday also brought more disappointment in the pool, Vollmer aside.

A day after Michael Phelps could barely drag himself out of the water upon failing to medal in the 400-meter individual medley, he impressively responded Sunday with a breathtaking second leg of the 4x100 relay. But this would be Lochte's turn to disappoint, as he blew a full-second lead as the anchor and was embarrassingly overtaken by France's Yannick Agnel, who'd later crow that Lochte “cracked.”

France gold, U.S. silver.

It was almost as stunning, though not quite, as Wieber's misfortune.

Can the Americans depend on either Phelps or Lochte?

Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old international swimmer of the year in 2011, has the pedigree to be the one because she's participating in seven events, unprecedented for a woman. But she and the U.S. took bronze in the freestyle relays Saturday, and she had only the second-best time in the 100-meter backstroke semis Sunday, nearly a full second behind Australia's Emily Seebohm.

Franklin could still fare well, but a cereal-box coronation might have to wait.

Who else?

If it isn't swimming, it's pretty much got to be track, doesn't it?

Sprinter Justin Gatlin has been miles behind Usain Bolt and the pack. Allyson Felix does have a chance in the 200 but faces stiff competition. Lolo Jones is the nation's best hurdler but is no match for Australia's great Sally Pearson. The only track athlete I feel firmly about at this stage is LaShawn Merritt in the 400, a race Americans have dominated for decades.

In the past six Summer Games, the U.S. has won an average of 38 gold medals, most of anyone. That includes 36 in Beijing, where the Chinese Olympic factory churned out 51 and marked the first Games in which the Americans were overtaken since the Unified Team — Russia and neighbors — did it in 1992.

So far here, China has a 6-3 lead in golds, 12-11 in overall medals.

Michael?

Anyone?

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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