Jul 31, 2012; London, United Kingdom; USA team members (L-R) McKayla Maroney - Jordyn Wieber - Gabrielle Douglas - Alexandra Raisman - Kyla Ross pose with their gold medals after the women's team gymnastics final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
LONDON - The U.S. women's gymnastics team's Olympic gold medal-winning triumph Tuesday night didn't come down to a perfect landing on a tumbling pass. It didn't require the last-minute performances of a lifetime by a handful of nervous but determined teenagers. It didn't force the American coaches to pace in a corner or competitors to tensely chew on their fingernails.
No, the USA made it look easy in winning its first team Olympic gold medal in 16 years, and only its second ever, for one very simple reason:
It was easy.
To be sure, the Americans worked for it. For months of intense, mind-and-body, team-based training under national team coordinator Marta Karolyi, they prepared for this evening. But when the hot lights were at their brightest, in the back half of the four-rotation event, the Americans won this so-revered of gymnastics gold medals with room to spare because the Russians gave it to them.
After stunning mistakes on the balance beam and then alarming errors on the floor, including one near face-plant by a Russian star, the Americans could have sent 44-year-old Mary Lou Retton and two of her daughters into the floor exercise and probably still come away with the gold.
It was that much of a blowout.
By the time team captain Aly Raisman hit the floor to close the competition for the USA, after scintillating performances from teammates Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber before her, not much more than a few cartwheels were needed to seal the deal. Raisman did much, much more, of course, but well before her score from the judges was posted, she fell into the arms of her joyous teammates. She knew. They knew. The gold was theirs.
The margin of victory for the Americans was a stunning 5.066 points, the largest in the modern, Olga and Nadia era of gymnastics. The Netherlands won the 1928 gold medal by 27.75 points, but we can all imagine what women's gymnastics looked like back then. Closer to the present day, the old Soviet Union won its 1960 Olympic gold medal by 8.997 points.
And now, this. Dominance has a name and a face, and it is pint-sized, tough as nails and wears red, white and blue.
In this most competitive time in women's gymnastics, on the biggest stage in the sport, a tiny step-out or little wobble usually determines the difference between gold and silver.
Not Tuesday night.
The Americans were steely in their will and nerve from the get-go, when Wieber, the reigning world champion who now-famously failed to make the individual all-around final, opened the competition with a stunning vault of near perfection. That opened the floodgates to 11 more routines of stellar brilliance. Team USA went 12-for-12 - three athletes in each of four rotations - on the night, without anything resembling a major mistake.
Uber-coach Bela Karolyi has seen a lot of gymnastics over the decades, and he said he had rarely seen a team rise to the occasion in such a manner.
The Americans and Russians competed side-by-side in the same rotation, giving themselves the opportunity to keep an eye on each other close up. The Americans let their vaults do their talking, opening a nearly two-point lead on the Russians after that first rotation. A margin of 1.766 points is a mile in gymnastics.
"The vault was very, very, very important," Bela Karolyi said, actually adding a few more verys. "That was our secret weapon."
The Russians closed the gap on the next apparatus, the uneven parallel bars, but only to 0.399 of a point.
Then came the beam, and disaster for Mother Russia, with two shaky performances in which the gymnasts didn't fall, but almost.
As they moved to the floor for the fourth and final rotation, Marta Karolyi knew it was over. "Well, that was obvious," she said later. "The mental pressure got to them. They were psychologically beaten."
Immediately, comparisons were made to the 1996 Magnificent Seven team of the Atlanta Olympics, which won the nation's first women's gymnastics team gold medal in a much closer competition, by just 0.821 of a point over Russia.
Marta Karolyi shook her head.
"I think this is a higher achievement because the 1996 Olympics took place in the United States, and this time, we're not at home. This is better."
Christine Brennan, USA TODAY