It all came crashing down to the floor. The hopes and dreams of a gold medal – the latest victory in a storied history of women’s gymnastics – were within reach…
But Russia can’t win them all.
The Fab Five of Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney were nearly flawless on each apparatus today as Team USA – dominant in the qualifying round – held off rotation-mate Russia for its first gold medal in the Women’s Gymnastics Team Final since 1996. The Russians went home with the silver medal, and Romania held off China for the bronze, though neither country threatened to finish any higher.
There was no need this time for a heroic, one-legged vault, a la Kerri Strug’s timeless feat from Atlanta – just consistency and, some thought, Wieber’s ability to overcome the disappointment of missing the all-around final due to a rule limiting each country to two gymnasts. But truly, that was never an issue.
Vault (Wieber, Douglas, Maroney)
Remember, the Americans perform what is called an Amanar vault – the most difficult type. Wieber led off with great technique on her vault and a very minor step on the landing, netting a fantastic 15.933 score. But that would end up being only the third-best score of the round – behind her two own teammates.
Douglas followed with an acrobatic run and a 15.966 score. Vault specialist McKayla “Air” Maroney is the gymnastics equivalent of a lefty relief pitcher specialist in baseball – the vault is the only apparatus she will compete on at the Games. Maroney launched powerfully off the vault, achieving rare air and landing daintily to applause throughout the venue and a 16.233 score – the best of the finals. And I laughed aloud at the incredulity of her perfection.
Russia posted vaults of 15.233 and 15.833, before Maria Paseka fell off the pad for a 15.300, keeping the U.S. on top heading into the bars by 1.7.
Standings through Rotation 1:
USA – 48.132
RUS – 46.366
Uneven Bars (Wieber, Ross, Douglas)
Russia came in with great strength on the bars and posted the second-best total on the event to the Chinese. Aliya Mustafina of Russia has actually created a release technique from the bars which has been named for her, and she executed it well with only a minor step. Russia finished with a 46.166 on the apparatus.
Team USA led off again with Wieber, who posted a 14.666 after a minor step on the release. Ross, who is the youngest member of the Fab 5 at 15, then posted solid 14.933, and Douglas, a.k.a. “The Flying Squirrel” for her powerful launches and speed on the bars, followed with a team-best 15.200, sixth-best overall. But the Americans were third overall on the apparatus – the only one they did not win on the evening – and the huge lead had dwindled to 0.399.
Standings through Rotation 2:
USA – 92.931
RUS – 92.532
Balance Beam (Ross, Douglas, Raisman)
Ross led off the American rotation on the balance beam with a 15.133, and Douglas followed with the Americans’ best turn, a 15.233. Raisman closed with a 14.933, turning the apparatus over to the Russians. Aliya Mustafina had a slight misstep and scored a low 14.533 for her country, which totaled 44.399 on the apparatus, good enough for third overall behind Romania.
Going into the final event, Russia was down 1.299 to the Americans, who had a score of 138.23 and could clinch the gold with a consistent, solid showing on the floor.
Standings through Rotation 3:
USA – 138.230
RUS – 136.931
Floor Exercise (Douglas, Wieber, Raisman)
With Russia and the United States staging a cold war of sorts on the scoreboard through three rotations, the gold was decided on the floor exercise. And that is where the typical icewater Russian resolve melted away.
It would take an epic comeback for Russia to put the pressure on the Americans, but before Team USA could even take the floor, Russia’s hope had hit it. Mustafina completed a stylish and solid routine but did have a couple missteps near the end, scoring a 14.800. But then, Anastasia Grishina tumbled to the floor before she could complete one of her style elements. The deduction was, as NBC commentator Tim Daggett summarized, “catastrophic.” Grishina posted a 12.466 – lowest in the field. Ksenia Afanasyeva also stumbled and followed with a 14.333, placing the Russians sixth out of eight squads on the floor and holding the door open for the Americans to breeze to the gold.
Enter Gabby Douglas with an athletic routine on the floor, earning a 15.066 (third-best in the field). All eyes were on Wieber, with a shot at redemption and a chance to clinch the gold. She did not disappoint, running a confident and critical floor routine and scoring 15 flat. Raisman punctuated the victory with an effervescent routine and scoring a field-high 15.300, shedding tears of joy even before finishing after nailing the landing on her final element, with a beaming Wieber cheering her on.
It was a poignant victory for Team USA, with the Fab 5 holding hands until the official score was posted. Each of the girls excelled at her personal strength and contributed to what was a truly dominant team victory, regardless of whatever individual ambitions existed from the qualifying round. With their parents and families in attendance, the Fab 5 joined the 1996 women’s team as all-time American Olympic greats.