LONDON -- The U.S. women are atop the gymnastics standings, as expected, with little standing in their way -- except themselves.
More than the Russians, Romanians, and Chinese, the biggest challenge for the gold medal may come from how they deal with world champion Jordyn Wieber's failure to qualify for the all-around final Sunday. She was bumped by her best friend on the very last routine.
"I'm definitely worried," national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. "You try to find words ... what do you say? But the fact is the fact. She did her best. She was edged by her teammates."
A heavy favorite for gymnastics' biggest prize Wieber lost her chance with a series of uncharacteristic mistakes. She wound up with the fourth-best individual score in qualifying, but countries are limited to two gymnasts in the all-around and event finals and pal Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas were ahead of her.
Russia's Viktoria Komova, who was runner-up to Wieber at last year's world championships, is ahead of all three Americans.
The 17-year-old Wieber was sobbing as she made her way through the mixed zone, so distraught she couldn't speak to reporters. Later on Twitter, she thanked fans for "all your love and support."
It could be a historic competition for the Americans, who breezed to the top of qualifying with a score of 181.863 points and then waited to see if Russia, Romania, or defending Olympic champion China could match it.
No one came close. Russia, runner-up to the U.S. at last year's world championships, was 1.4 points back (180.429) while China (176.637) and European champion Romania (176.264) were well behind.
"We knew the Americans were going to be up there," said Rebecca Tunney of Britain. "They're going to be unbeatable."
Scoring starts from scratch in Tuesday's team finals. The Americans are the strongest team top to bottom -- if they can get their heads around Wieber's woes.
After congratulating Raisman, Wieber rushed off to try to compose herself -- unsuccessfully. Her teammates were similarly shell-shocked, with Raisman looking stunned.
"I was really surprised, and I feel awful because she wanted it so bad," Raisman said. "But she should still feel proud because she's an Olympian. We have to stay calm and focused on team finals."
The Americans have only one Olympic team title, winning it back in 1996 with the Magnificent Seven. They arrived at the last two Olympics as world champions, only to leave without gold both times. But this team is stronger than the 2004 and even 2008 squads.
Part of that is skill, a collection of gymnasts who do the most difficult tricks in the world yet make them look like child's play. But the Americans have a unique bond too, a closeness that comes from traveling the world together for events and spending weeks at the Karolyi ranch for training, little to keep themselves entertained besides each other.
But a shock like this can shatter even the tightest of bonds -- if they let it.
"That's what I told her. She's going to handle this with as much class as she handled the victories. Make no excuses," said John Geddert, the U.S. coach and Wieber's personal coach.
Only four reigning world champions have won Olympic gold, with Ukraine's Lilia Podkopayeva the last in 1996. If anyone was going to avoid the 16-year curse of world champions going without Olympic gold, it was going to be Wieber. She had lost only two all-around competitions since 2008.
But Wieber appeared vulnerable these last few months while Raisman and Douglas have been on the rise. Wieber's troubles began on vault, when she stepped slightly out of bounds. Then there was a form break on uneven bars, followed by a few wobbles on balance beam. On floor exercise, she got too much power on one of her massive tumbling passes and had to steady herself with a step back -- out of bounds. It was only a 0.10 point deduction, but it put her on the all-around bubble with Raisman, the world bronze medalist on floor, still waiting her turn.
Raisman needed less than a 15 to knock Wieber down to third place, and she got it easily -- and then some. She gets such great height on her tumbling passes that you could park a Mini Cooper beneath her; and she lands them with such pinpoint accuracy you want to check her feet for glue.
As Raisman climbed off the podium, Douglas, McKayla Maroney, and Kyla Ross greeted her with hugs. By then, Wieber had already disappeared, knowing her chance at the Olympic title had too.