Golden again, US wins 1st Olympic women's gymnastics title since '96
LONDON — The Americans grabbed hands and backed up, eager to get a better view of the scoreboard.
There really was no need. That Olympic gold medal was in the bag the minute they took the floor.
The Americans lived up to their considerable hype and then some Tuesday night, routing silver medalist Russia and everybody else on their way to their first Olympic title in women's gymnastics since 1996. Their score of 183.596 was a whopping five points ahead of Russia and made their final event, floor exercise, more like a coronation. Romania won the bronze.
With the Russians on the sidelines crying, the Americans stood at the center of the floor, clapping, cheering and basking in a winner's glow. When the score for captain Aly Raisman flashed, the Americans screamed and a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rang out around the arena. The women held up their index fingers for the cameras — just in case anyone had a doubt.
"We knew we could do it. We just had to pull out all the stops," Raisman said.
The Americans had come into the last two Olympics as world champions, only to leave without a gold. But this team is the strongest, top to bottom, the USA has ever had and the rest of the world never stood a chance. After the U.S. opened with a barrage of booming vaults, everyone else was playing for silver.
"This is the best team all-time," said U.S. coach John Geddert, who is also Jordyn Wieber's personal coach. "Others might disagree. The '96 team might disagree. But this is the best team. Difficulty-wise, consistency wise, this is USA's finest."
Now all they have to do is find themselves a catchy nickname, like "The Magnificent Seven" from 1996. Some have suggested "The Fab Five," but that belongs to Michigan basketball's Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Co. Others have tossed out "The Fierce Five."
Try this: "Best Gymnastics Team in the World. By A Lot."
"I must recognize United States lead this competition from beginning to end," Romanian coach Octavian Belu said. "Other countries just tried to do something to get on the podium."
Some teenagers might find that pressure tough to bear, but the Americans reveled in it. When they saw the Russians and Romanians peeking in the doorway during training sessions, they cranked up the oomph in their routines, the better to intimidate. Even the shock of world champion Jordyn Wieber failing to qualify for Thursday's all-around final couldn't distract them.
When the gold was on the line, the Americans were simply spectacular.
"There were a lot of rumors that we couldn't do this because we won worlds, and there were a lot of doubts," McKayla Maroney said. "We went out there to prove something and that's what we did."
The Americans knew Russia would be its biggest foe, especially with the return of 2010 world champion Aliya Mustafina, who missed last year's world championships after blowing out her left ACL. But they essentially won the gold medal with their first event, vault, putting on a fireworks show right in front of their rivals.
All of the Americans do Amanars, one of the toughest vaults in the world — a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the table and 2.5 twisting somersaults before landing. It's got a start value — the measure of difficulty — of 6.5, a whopping 0.7 above the vault most other gymnasts do, and they ripped off one massive one after another.
Wieber went first and did perhaps the best one she's ever done, getting great height in the air, her legs locked together. When her feet slammed into the mat on landing, she threw up her arms and smiled broadly. Anyone wondering how she was coping with the devastation she felt Sunday had their answer.
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