By Annie Ross
Every four years American sports fans become enamored of gymnastics, and the USA women’s gym team showed us why yesterday at the Rio Olympics.
The U. S. won the women’s gymnastics team gold medal that had been all but awarded to them before the competition even began. It was how they did it that was remarkable.
In their red, white and blue leotards, the American women gymnasts smashed their astronomical expectations, winning the team gold medal on by 8.209 points over their nearest competition. Russia was the best of anyone else, winning the silver medal, and the Chinese took bronze.
The complete American domination was nothing short of extraordinary for women’s gymnastics. The U.S.’s margin of victory was the highest since 1960. It was also more than one point greater than the difference between the No. 1 team and the No. 2 team in every Olympic team final between 1984 and 2008—combined.
There is no historical comparison for this rout that doesn’t cross over into the absurd. Here’s one anyway:
What the American team did was the rough equivalent of winning the 100 meters by 0.69 seconds—and Usain Bolt won in 2012 with an Olympic-record sprint by 0.12 seconds.
The brilliance of the U.S. team—which consisted of Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman—was on full display from the very first rotation Tuesday.
The only pressure wasn’t to mess up the near-perfection. And no one did. Each of the three American women on each of the four events one-upped her predecessor as the U.S. topped the scoreboard in every apparatus.
“I don’t think anybody could have asked any more of us,” said Biles. “I do think we performed at our best.”
The rout was on from the very beginning. The U.S. lead was 0.7 points after the first rotation on the vault. It mushroomed to 4.026 points after the uneven bars, 4.961 points after the balance beam and the ridiculous 8.209 points after a sublime floor routine by Biles, the last gymnast on the last event.
The only question coming into Tuesday’s final wasn’t if the Americans would win but by how much. After all, the U.S. is on a women’s gymnastics winning streak this decade that’s unprecedented for the country. The team has won the title at every major world event going back to 2011—including the 2012 Olympics that spawned the “Fierce Five.”
“They were a little more tense in the warmup area, and I just reminded them to do what they’ve been doing in practice, and to really feed off the energy of the crowd and do it from a place of joy,” said Biles’ coach Aimee Boorman.
Minutes after they won the gold medal, this year’s U.S. team revealed its preferred nickname: the “Final Five.” The women said they coined it to honor Martha Karolyi, the national-team coordinator who is retiring after the Rio Games, while it also works because the team event will consist of only four gymnasts in the 2020 Games. They came up with it in a group text message.
It was inevitable that they would be even more dominant this year: The U.S. is better than usual, and the typical competition was worse. Russia had been hampered by a series of injuries. Romania failed to qualify a team to the Games. And the rising teams of Great Britain and Japan can’t yet run alongside the Americans.
The roster of U.S. gymnastics talent is so deep at the moment that it has probably become harder to make the American team than it is to win an Olympic medal with them. U.S. alternates this year include two members of the 2014 gold-medal-winning team at the world championships, and two members of the 2015 gold team were left at home. In fact, if not for that one little rule that nations can only send one team to the Olympics, three U.S. squads could have made a run at the medal stand Tuesday.
Biles, the best of them, is poised to be the breakout star of the Rio Games, mentioned in the same breath as American Olympic royalty like swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky. The three-time reigning individual world all-around champion, who competed in all four events Tuesday, is the heavy favorite to have another gold around her neck after Thursday’s competition, at which point she would stake her claim as the greatest of all time.