Olympics: In a runaway, U.S. women win gymnastics gold
London • Aly Raisman extended, and the music stopped, the last move of a near-perfect team performance. Raisman held her pose, then dropped her elbow. She brought her right hand to her chest, and then covered her mouth.
For the first time since 1996 and the "Magnificent Seven," it was Olympic gold for the United States women's gymnastics team.
While the team from Russia was wobbling and tripping and falling down, Team USA, which has been dubbed the "Fab Five," was nearly flawless from beginning to end and it was Jordyn Wieber leading the way.
Forty-eight hours after the defending world champion was knocked out of the individual all-around by Raisman, her roommate, Wieber returned with a force in the team final.
"She did such an amazing job tonight," Raisman said. "I'm so happy for her that she could kind of get redemption."
It was later revealed that Wieber competed with a bruised heel and a possible stress fracture in her shin. Still, she led off the competition with a vault that scored 15.933.
It was a blowout from the beginning. Wieber was ebullient, and her teammates said that vault immediately eased the pressure
The U.S. finished with a score of 183.596, nearly five points more than Russia, which struggled on beam, then simply collapsed on the floor exercise when Anastasia Grishina fell down.
Trailing the Russians on the floor, the U.S. needed only to average a 13.433 to win gold. The Americans averaged 15.122.
"After I finished my floor routine I was hoping that we won," Raisman said. "I wasn't keeping track of scores at all the whole meet."
Wieber's vault set the tone. McKayla Maroney then anchored the rotation with a heart-stopping, soaring Amanar vault that she landed like a dart in a bull's-eye.
Top to bottom, there wasn't even a nick in the overall performance.
U.S. team coordinator Martha Karolyi called Maroney's vault, which scored 16.233, the best she's seen and said "it's a different class, actually." Gabrielle Douglas, who, along with Raisman, will compete for the individual all-around on Thursday, scored better than 15 points in each of the four events.
The U.S. won by the largest margin of victory for a gymnastics gold medalist in the modern era and the largest overall since 1960. In 56 routines between the Olympics and last year's world championship, which the Americans won handily, they have not made a major mistake.
It led coach John Geddert to assert that this was "the best team of all-time."
"Other teams might disagree with that," Geddert said. "The '96 team might disagree with that."
But not Karolyi, who gave this team the edge over the famed team that beat Russia by eight-tenths when Kerri Strug, on an injured ankle, nailed the final vault in Atlanta.
"I think so," Karolyi said. "Just because '96 was in U.S. and this one is on foreign grounds."
Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller, the stars of the 1996 team, were in attendance and posted celebratory messages on Twitter.
"I'm not such an attractive crier so I'm holding back the tears," Dawes tweeted. "I'm just so happy for these girls."
It was a different atmosphere entirely from Sunday, when, even after Raisman and Douglas advanced to the individual all-around final, it felt more like a day of defeat.
There were questions about how the U.S. would respond to a shake-up in its power structure, whether its chemistry would suffer after Wieber's best friend forced her out of her dream competition.
Geddert, who is also Wieber's personal coach, said it was never a factor and that Wieber quickly recovered.
"She had about five minutes of disappointment," he said, "and she turned it around immediately when she got to the village. It was all about today."
After Wieber and Douglas and Raisman finished on floor, the team huddled quickly together. They later said they didn't know they had won, but there was no way they hadn't.
They stepped back and held hands and watched the video board hanging above the arena. Wieber was breathless as Douglas craned her neck, appearing genuinely curious. Raisman's score posted and the team erupted.
"Is it really true, is it really it?" Douglas remembered asking herself.
It wasn't just true. It was history made. And it was, even, magnificent.
A gymnastics rout
R The U.S. women's gymnastics team wins team gold by the largest margin in modern history.
• The Americans had not won team gold since 1996, when the "Magnificent Seven" also defeated Russia at the Atlanta Olympics.
• Two days after being knocked out of the individual all-around, defending world champion Jordyn Wieber nails her three events.