CLEVELAND - The fall from grace in gymnastics is quick and caustic. It's a sport where fortunes change quickly and rare is it that perfection is long-lasting.
No female gymnast was immune to the pitfalls of imperfection at these London games. The transition from tears to triumph was often as simple as a change of leotard and new night.
It's a sport hinged on a grainy layer of subjectivity and mistakes minute to viewers' eyes but enough to crush dreams.
Just look at Jordyn Wieber. The American was the reigning all-around world champion. Yet, a balance check on the beam and small step out of bounds on the floor cost her a spot in London's all-around final, the result of an ill-conceived rule that only allows two gymnasts from each country to advance. American teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman were second and third in qualifications. Wieber was fourth.
Raisman and Douglas fell victim to the sport's cruelness too though.
Raisman was flawless in her team and all-around qualifications performances. But the normally unflappable Raisman faltered in the all-around, straddling the beam for dear life at one point. She tied for bronze in that competition. The tiebreaker gave Russian Aliya Mustafina the medal. She earned redemption Tuesday with a bronze on the beam and gold on the floor.
Golden girl in the all-around Douglas struggled in both of her individual finals. She finished last among a strong group in the uneven bars and fell off the beam ending up in 7th. Douglas went from on top of the podium Thursday to fallen on the mat Tuesday. It's a quick reversal.
It wasn't just the Americans suffering an emotional upheaval either. Team Russia seemed to be on a spiraling stream of emotions with gymnasts Aliya Mustafina and Viktoria Komova jumping from proud to sad to angry in a few blinks. Finding consistency was no easy task at these games.
Sustaining brilliance in gymnastics is near impossible. Very few of the world's best fly high at multiple Olympics.
Both the gold and silver medalists in the all-around at Beijing failed to make it back to London. Shawn Johnson was forced to retire before the U.S. Trials due to a knee injury. Nastia Liukin got the to the trials but ended up face down on the mat, falling to grasp back onto the bar after a release. It's a jarring moment to watch when you remember Liukin in China, a pink princess gallivanting to gold.
It is all too familiar though. Glory comes and goes quickly. The golden girl's face is on a cereal box then just one in the crowd in a matter of only four years.
A new superstar emerges and four years ago becomes a distant memory. It has been more than four decades since a woman repeated as all-around champion at the Olympics, the sport's gold standard.
For now, the memories of American triumph are resonant - McKayla Maroney's jaw-dropping vault in the team final, Gabby Douglas' historic all-around gold, and Aly Raisman capping it with an infectious floor routine for individual gold.
Four years of training all put to the test in a two-week period. It's special. It changes lives. But fame is fleeting for these girls and women. As Frost writes, "nothing gold can stay."
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