After the U.S. women's gymnastics team named itself the "Magnificent Seven" _ "Mag Seven" for short _ men's coach Peter Kormann asked his guys whether they wanted a nickname, too. Yes, they said. How about "The Usual Suspects."
These suspects, the clumsy guys who were dropping from equipment at the Olympic Trials like leaves in autumn, stood fifth after Saturday's team competition in the compulsories. This means that they will be able to compete in the final group of six Monday in the optional competition on the six apparatus, the group where the scores will be higher and where the medal winners will certainly emerge.
"It was nearly a perfect session for us," Kormann said. "I don't think we could have done much better, especially after the first routine."
The Russians, with individual leader Alexi Nemov (57.862), are in first place, followed by China, Ukraine and Belarus. Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus, who won six gold medals in Barcelona, had the second-best score of the day (58.823). John Roethlisberger of the United States is third (57.524).
After committing 18 falls during the Olympic trials, and after a disappointing ninth-place finish at last year's world championships, this team came to the Georgia Dome with no expectations of doing well from anybody but themselves.
"It's pretty easy in a way," said John Macready, the youngest team member at 21. "There is no pressure because nobody is taking us seriously."
Saturday, the draw had the U.S. team competing third on the parallel bars. They had opened with the high bar. Mihai Bagiu twice failed to stop at the top of his handstand, which was two major deductions and Jair Lynch failed once. Bagiu scored 8.550 and Lynch 9.20, not a good start.
Maybe this is why the crowd of 30,000 stayed politely silent through the next four rotations. Maybe they were afraid to disturb the shaky Americans. But as the Americans began to gain confidence as they performed steady routines in floor exercise, they were also tense as they walked to that infernal horse, where three of the team members had difficulties in the trials.
Macready was scheduled first and his routine was clean. It wasn't spectacular or flamboyant or special, but it was clean. "That was a relief," Macready said. "I just knew I had to be like I am in practice. Just go up and do it nice and easy."
His score was 9.35 and his teammates were ecstatic, slapping Macready on the back and pumping fists in his face. Chainey Umphrey was next and his 9.225 score would turn out to be the worst. Blaine Wilson turned in a 9.35 performance, and he let out a whoop. Lynch posted a 9.475; Bagiu a 9.637; Roethlisberger a 9.70. Roethlisberger's score was the best of the afternoon round.
The only disappointment, Roethlisberger said, was the crowd. "We were hanging in there with Belarus," he said, "and it was so quiet."