Golden Girls: USA outlasts Russia, Wins First Women’s Gymnastics Team Finals Since 1996

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.

U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Qualifying Performance and Meet the Team

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 USA – 48.132
RUS 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 USA – 92.931
RUS 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 USA – 138.230
RUS 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.

FINAL STANDINGS

1 USAUSA 183.596
2 RUSRUS 178.530
3 ROUROU 176.414
4 CHNCHN 174.430
5 CANCAN 170.804
6 GBRGBR 170.495
7 ITAITA 167.930
8 JPNJPN 166.646
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Men’s Gymnastics Falters, Places 5th in Team Finals

The bad fortune of other countries that vaulted the United States men’s gymnastics team to the top qualifying spot cruelly reversed course today, sending the American men tumbling from both the apparatuses and the standings.

China and Japan – traditional gymnastics powerhouses – recovered from atypical subpar scores in the qualifying rounds to earn the gold and silver medals, respectively, with host nation Great Britain earning a surprising bronze medal in third. This was only Great Britain’s third men’s gymnastics medal – and second bronze – in Olympic history.

Team USA finished a disappointing fifth behind Ukraine, which had qualified seventh.

The Americans were competitive – relatively – in the floor and bar exercises, but they lost nearly a point in their floor score from qualifying, and inherent weakness on the pommel horse and a disastrous performance on the vault doomed hopes for any medal, let alone gold.

Team USA dropped nearly 1.5 points on the vault, going from fourth in the qualifying on the event to sixth in the finals. Sam Mikulak and Jake Dalton did well but stepped off on their landings, and John Orozco missed his vault completely.

The Americans posted a low score again on the pommel, the apparatus that proved the deciding factor in the medal standings. The Americans’ lowest score for any event in qualifying was on the pommel horse, but it was good enough for third place then. The team’s performance in the finals was more than 3 points worse, dropping them to seventh in the field on that apparatus. Danell Leyva and Orozco, both considered proficient on the apparatus, faltered, posting scores in the 13’s and 12’s, respectively. Had Team USA simply maintained its performance on the pommel from the qualifying round, it would have comfortably won Team Silver.

In fact, Team USA regressed on every apparatus except parallel bar, where they gained nearly half a point. But in order to match rejuvenated Japanese and Chinese squads, they needed to replicate or nearly replicate their qualifying totals and were unable to do so. The qualifying score of 275.342 would have put USA quite comfortably in silver position.

Jonathan Horton, the sole gymnast returning from Beijing’s rotation, posted the sixth-best score on rings, but this was his only officially tallied event score on the day.

Orozco performed on five of the six apparatuses (floor exercise was the sole omission). He was eighth-best on high bar, 13th-best on rings and tied for 15th on parallel bars.

Please don’t mistake what I can only classify as cold analysis for malicious criticism. The U.S. men have some fantastic personalities and great back stories, and they provided the world with quite the show in the qualifying rounds. And to be sure, there is no shame in finishing fifth-best in the world at anything.

The Americans’ fall paved the way for a memorable moment for host nation Great Britain, which stuck in silver position after completing the final rotation, initiating a raucous explosion of applause and cheers from the home crowd, which included princes William and Harry. However, the final Japanese vault score was incorrectly tallied, and after a formal inquiry by Japan’s delegation, the score was reverted and Japan took silver, with Great Britain taking bronze.

Lleyva, who posted the top all-around qualifying score, and Orozco will move on to compete in the Men’s Individual All-Around finals. In terms of individual event finals, Dalton qualified for the floor exercise (Mikulak just missed), Lleyva is a reserve for pommel horse and parallel bars, Horton is a reserve for rings, Mikulak qualified for vault, and Horton and Lleyva qualified on horizontal bar.

Final standings:

RANK TEAM SCORE
1 CHNCHN 275.997
2 JPNJPN 271.952
3 GBRGBR 271.711
4 UKRUKR 271.526
5 USAUSA 269.952
6 RUSRUS 269.603
7 GERGER 268.019
8 FRAFRA 265.441

 

Points Breakdown by Event

TEAM USA TOTAL QUALIFYING SCORE:  275.342
TEAM USA TOTAL FINAL SCORE:  269.952
Differential:  -5.39

Floor Exercise

Qualifying:  46.165
Final:  45.266
Differential:   -0.899

Pommel Horse

Qualifying:  43.965
Final:  40.633
Differential:   -3.332

Rings

Qualifying:  45.332
Final:  45.257
Differential:   -0.075

Parallel Bar

Qualifying:  45.182
Final:  45.765
Differential:  +0.583

Vault

Qualifying:  48.000
Final:  46.632
Differential:  -1.368

Horizontal Bar

Qualifying:  46.698
Final:  46.399
Differential:   -0.299