It's been 16 long years in the desert since the Magnificent Seven in 1996, but at long last, the Olympic women’s team gold medal is back in the possession of the United States. The U.S. Women did what no American team has ever done before: They grabbed the lead in qualification, and never relinquished it. And they did it by beating Russia by five points. (If that sounds like a lot, it is).
The Americans began by dominating on vault. Doubts about Jordyn Wieber's ability to bounce back from her shocking all-around elimination were erased immediately; after walking into the arena laughing and smiling with her teammates, she kicked the session off with one of the best vaults she's done all year. McKayla Maroney was brought to these games to perform one single vault, her specialty, and she made the most of it, hitting one of the most perfect Amanars (two-and-a-half twists from a round off onto the board) ever seen in the sport. Maroney scored an unprecedented 9.733 in execution, the highest execution score in an Olympic games since the removal of the 10.0. Not a bad start.
In rotation two, Russia put up a fight on their own strength, the uneven bars. A stuck dismount from Viktoria Komova capped off an excellent rotation for the Russians, who desperately needed to play catch up to team USA after vault. The United States needed only to survive uneven bars, their weakest event, but despite a hit routine from Gabby Douglas, Russia closed the gap. The U.S. lead was cut to just four tenths of a point.
Next came the balance beam, the same event that dashed the USA’s gold medal hopes in Beijing … but not today. Kyla Ross (the team’s youngest member) led off with a terrific routine, and she knew it: Afterwards, she hugged coach Jenny Zhang Ross with tears in her eyes. Douglas silenced those who have doubted her consistency as she hit a rock solid set. The Russians, meanwhile, struggled. The stage was set for the last rotation.
As China slipped away, America and the Russia moved to floor for the final showdown. It would be a blowout: Russia fell apart, thanks to a massive error from Anastasia Grishina and disaster for current world floor champion Ksenia Afanasyeva, who crumbled to a heap after her final tumbling pass. The Russian team sat dejected and in tears.
Then the Americans took to the floor, and they brought home gold. Wieber not only hit, she put on a show, smiling throughout her routine and sticking nearly every tumbling pass. The final competitor was team captain Aly Raisman, and as the crowd clapped along to “Hava Nagila,” she brought the house down. When Raisman made her final salute to the judges, she was already in tears.
The five American teammates (dubbed the Fab Five by fans) held hands as they waited for the scoreboard to make it official. When the score came up, they wrapped each other in a celebratory, golden embrace.
Russia finished in a distant second place, as Romania continued their incredible Olympic tradition and grabbed the bronze for their 10thconsecutive Olympic team medal. The defending Olympic champions China finished in fourth place.
Between winning world championships last year and now the Olympics, this U.S. team has hit 56 out of 56 routines, never falling once. Today, they are Olympic champions. They very well might be remembered, ultimately, as the best of them all.
Lindsey Green is writing about Olympic gymnastics for The Sports Section. You can e-mail her at Lindsey@ti14th.com.