America’s New Fab Five: Olympic Gymnasts Triumphant

America’s New Fab Five: Olympic Gymnasts Triumphant July 31, 2012

If you don’t want to hear the results of the Olympic team finals competition for the women, then stop reading immediately.  My gymnasto-geekery continues as I want to report on the results from the London Olympic Games.

Here’s how it went down.

The American and Russian teams — favored, in some order, to go #1 and #2 — were in the same rotation, beginning with the vault.  Since the team finals only allow the top 3 gymnasts from each team to perform (and all three scores count toward the team total), it was possible to put two teams in each rotation rather than the usual one.  So there were eight teams that had advanced to the team finals, and two teams were placed on each event.  As the top qualifiers, the Americans and Russians were placed together at the top of the event lineup.

FIRST ROTATION: The vault is the Americans’ best event, and they nailed their vaults, scoring even higher than they did in the qualifying round.  Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas both hit their vaults for scores of 15.933, and Kayla Maroney, who was only competing on this one event, blasted the rest of the field out of the water.  It was the highest score I’ve seen yet in the women’s competition, a 16.233, to give the Americans a staggering 48.132 cumulative score.  Martha Karolyi’s decision to bring Maroney and compete her on the vault apparently paid off.  The Russians had a decent round, but they could not keep pace with the extremely powerful Americans, who opened up a nearly 2-point lead after a single rotation.  China, which began on its best event, the uneven bars, stood in second place (0.033 ahead of the Russians), and Romania had a disastrous turn on the bars and finished in sixth with a 41.465 cumulative store.

SECOND ROTATION: The second rotation brought the Americans and the Russians to the uneven bars, arguably the Americans’ weakest event (and one where the judges have been keeping the scores low).  Jordyn Wieber turned in a 14.666 and Kyla Ross scored a 14.933.  Good, solid, but not great.  Gabby Douglas, whose release skills are as high as most mens’ release moves on the high bar, finished strong with a 15.20.  The Americans had a cumulative 44.8 points on the event — while the Russians knocked it out of the park.  Their 46.166 brought them well within striking distance of the Americans after two events.  China stumbled on the balance beam and fell over three points behind the Americans and the Russians, while Romania performed well enough on the beam (a 45.249) to rise to fifth place and put themselves in the bronze medal hunt.

By this point in the competition, barring a major catastrophe (which is quite possible in the sport!), the Americans and the Russians were duking it out for the gold.  There was another fight for the podium, which three points separating China (in 3rd place after two rotations) from Canada (in 4th) and Romania (in 5th).  The other teams in the finals — Italy, Great Britain and Japan — were just happy to be there.  It illustrates the dominance of the Americans and Russians that the Japanese, after only two events, were a full 12 points behind the leading teams.

The Fab Five: a true team.

THIRD ROTATION: The balance beam can be a killer.  After her terrific performance in the qualifying rounds, Aly Raisman made her first appearance in the team finals on the balance beam and hit a good-but-not-great 14.933.  Kyla Ross raised the bar a bit with her difficulty and her elegant technique, scoring a 15.133.  But for the second time in three rotations, Gabby Douglas emerged with the high score at 15.233.  By this point the American girls were radiant.  The crowd was appreciative — Great Britain did not have a chance — and the Americans were rocking it.  On the same event, the Russians — typically very strong here — dropped nine tenths further behind.

Over on the Floor Exercise, Romania beat China by over 4 points.  The trend of major mistakes on the floor, which is often one of the most consistent events in the sport, continued.  A 40.833 cumulative dropped China back to fourth and a 44.7 put Romania in third place.  Going into the final rotation, then, there was a 1.3 spread separating the Americans from the Russians and a 5.5 point spread between the second-place Russians and the third-place Romanians.

FOURTH ROTATION: Women’s gymnastics culminates on the Floor Exercise.  The top qualifiers will always start on the vault and finish on the floor.  So the Americans and Russians went to gymnastics’ most musically dramatic event — but also an event where the Americans had stumbled in the qualifying round.  It was here that Jordyn Wieber had taken a minor step out of pounds and dropped out of the all around finals.

On this night, however, it was the Russians who wilted.  They turned in a cumulative 41.60, the third-lowest score on the floor exercise of the competition.  For the American women, there was not a single score under 15.  Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber both turned in rock-solid routines for matching scores of 15.066, and Aly Raisman, the bounciest of the bunch, turned in a barn-burner for a 15.30.  The Americans won the gold medal with a dominant performance in which they led from start to finish, and claimed the highest scores of the evening on three out of the four events.

Wieber did herself proud with solid performances all night, Aly Raisman performed well, and the role players (Maroney and Ross) also did well, but the star of the night for the Americans was definitely Gabby Douglas.  The only American to compete on all four events, she won the high score for the Americans on uneven bars and beam, and she scored a fantastic 15.933 on the vault and a solid 15.066 on the floor.  The charming Douglas, full of smiles and cheers for her teammates, is clearly a star.

Fortunately for the Russians, they had built a large enough lead through three events that their poor performance on the floor did not drop them to third.  While the Americans finished with a 183.596 overall score, Russia had a 178.530 and Romania a 176.414.  China turned in a respectable (but far from their former glory) 174.430, Canada a 170.804, Great Britian a 170.495, Italy a 167.930, and Japan a 166.646, seventeen points behind the leaders.

A five-point margin of victory in this sport is hugely impressive.  These are the “fab five” indeed.  It’s arguably the most dominant Olympic performance from an American gymnastics team, male or female, in the history of the sport.  While the Magnificent Seven won the gold in front of the home crowd in Atlanta, let’s hope that the Fab Five get just as much praise for their excellent work representing the country.

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