The 2016 Rio Olympics is proving a boon for the United States medals as the country is in the lead with help from the US women’s gymnastics team aka the “Final Five” as they took home the gold medal at the final team competition Tuesday night.
Four years ago, the five Americans stared at the scoreboard, hand in hand as they awaited their fate.
It wasn’t in doubt in London. The Fierce Five won gold by more than two points. But they weren’t yet used to winning at that level, not quite accustomed to dominating the rest of the world.
As the American gymnasts awaited the final score at Rio Olympic Arena on Tuesday, they hugged. They laughed together. And they barely looked up.
Since 2012, they’ve become undisputedly the best team in the world. Simone Biles’ floor score on their final event of the night was a mere formality in a competition the Americans won by a jaw-dropping margin.
The United States scored 184.897 to beat second-place Russia by more than eight points. That was more than double the gap between silver and last place.
“Every year we became better and better and I think at this moment we can say the United States dominates the world of gymnastics,” said national team coordinator Martha Karolyi, who is retiring after these Games. “I think that’s probably comparable to the other era, first when Russia was dominating and then Romania took over and dominated for several years.”
Those comparisons are apt, but even among the great teams, the Americans stand out. Since 1976, no country has won five consecutive team titles at major international competitions. The margin of victory is the biggest since at least 1972.
It’s a byproduct of a system that has seen the United States dominate since 2011. They’ve won all five world or Olympic titles since then.
So while that London team was getting used to being atop the podium, this group entered these Games as a virtual lock for gold and the expectations to match.
“We’ve been pretty dominant the last couple of years,” said Aly Raisman, captain in London and again in Rio. “But I think instead of using it as pressure, we use it as motivation.”
2:00 PMMen’s Individual All-Around, Final
That means Biles was holding back a “come on” response when Karolyi pushes the three-time world champion to be a little bit closer to perfect. It means competition routines every day in the gym in the lead-up to these Games.
It means building consistency of routines that allows the Americans to be confident when they get to this stage.
“It’s just that auto pilot or push the button and go,” said Karolyi. “Basically, they’re just so much automatic.”
The Americans were on Tuesday, starting on vault and building an early lead that no country would come close to. Raisman and Biles each nailed an Amanar, which is one of the toughest vaults being done today.
On uneven bars, Gabby Douglas matched her best score of the year, and Madison Kocian had the best score of her career.
Despite slight wobbles from Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Biles, they hit all three routines on the balance beam. They finished with Hernandez, Raisman and Biles delivering high-flying, engaging floor routines.
The Americans had the highest team score on every event.
“We’ve put so much training behind this, and I don’t think we could have been any more prepared,” said Biles, “so the outcome is just amazing that we finally have the gold.”
They can add it to the many others they’ve been amassing. While Karolyi has led the Americans to unprecedented success, the past five years have been dominant by even her standards.
Of the 88 world championship or Olympic medals they have since 2001, 34 have come since the United States’ run of dominance started in 2011.
The Americans stand to collect more medals this week. Biles and Raisman compete in the all-around on Thursday, and each gymnast has made at least one event final.
“Our expectations there are very high,” said Mihai Brestyan, Raisman’s coach. “The quality of the work is what we’re working daily. Sometimes the kids say, ‘you are never happy.’ I am happy now. That’s my happiness.”
The gymnasts were too. Even when it’s expected, winning never gets old.