LONDON – Ever see a baseball game where the first three batters hit grand slams?
It’s theoretically impossible, of course. But that was the feeling here Tuesday at the Olympic women’s team gymnastics competition. Right out of the gate, the first three Americans to perform in the night’s first event were awesome. They sprinted down the runway at North Greenwich Arena and launched themselves off the vault into suborbital perfection.
They soared high. They twisted and flipped and twizzled divinely. They landed faultlessly. One after another. It was breathtaking to watch.
“It was like, boom, boom, boom,” said McKayla Maroney, the last of the three.
“It was bam, bam, bam,” said USA women’s gymnastics coach John Geddert.
And after that, the other teams were done, done, done. Even if it took another 90 minutes or so for the American twizzlers to finish off the job.
By posting the three best vault scores of the night, the USA women jumped to a large lead that could never be surmounted and went on to win America’s second gold medal in the event and its first since the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Wasn’t even close. Wasn’t even close to being close. Silver medalist Russia finished five full points behind the USA – 183.596 to 178.530, if you must know-in a sport where scoring is carried out to thousandths of a point. Bronze medalist Romania totaled 176.414 points.
The team competition consists of four events: the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Only in the balance beam did the USA women not wind up with the best scores. But they never slipped into second place overall.
“Those first three vaults … it was contagious,” said Gabby Douglas, who is becoming the USA’s signature competitor here. “It carried over to the bars, the beam, the floor.”
Yet still, it all must have been harder than it looked. Yes? As the evening wore on and their lead kept building, did the American women understand what was happening? Did they realize how they were pulling away?
“We didn’t really pay attention to the scores,” said Jordyn Wieber, who besides the vault nailed her performances in the bars and floor. “We were just going from routine to routine.”
Wieber had her own special reason to show the world her best stuff. Two days earlier despite another good performance, she had been cheated out of a spot in the upcoming all-around competition because of the Olympic competition’s arcane and arbitrary format.
Geddert, the coach, was still angry about it Tuesday, calling it “a stupid rule and you can capitalize ‘stupid.’ ”
But if anyone wondered whether Wieber might be emotionally discombobulated by her disappointment, that was quickly answered when she was the first “bam” in the “bam, bam, bam.”
“Today,” Wieber admitted, “was pretty good redemption.”
And not just for her. America has always adored its gymnastic sprites. But the past three Olympic trips-to Sydney, Athens and Beijing – had yielded only frustration, with one bronze and two silver medals. Those USA teams were good. Just not quite good enough. But over the past four years as this group of young women identified themselves and officially coalesced at last month’s Olympic Trials in San Jose, a sense developed that this could be the golden year.
Optimistic Americans weren’t the only ones who sensed it. Gymnasts from other nations also saw the writing on the wall.
“They were amazing,” said Imogen Cairns, a member of the Great Britain team that placed sixth Tuesday. “I’m not surprised what happened. I had been over there to the States to train with them. They were so hungry for it. Our team always goes, ‘Who’s going to have it this time?’ In Beijing, during the training, you could tell the Chinese were going to have it. And this time, you could tell it was the Americans. I’m happy for them.”
When Alexandra Raisman landed her final floor routine flip, it set off a celebration of hugging and screaming in the Team USA huddle on the floor, long before the final totals were officially posted. Turns out that despite Wieber’s contention of no scoreboard watching, they knew exactly where things stood. Minutes later, they were receiving their medals and holding floral bouquets, waving to the crowd.
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