Gold again: U.S. women’s gymnasts dominate in Rio

American gymnast Laurie Hernandez performs her balance beam routine during the team competition Tuesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Who would have thought that the one crying would be a crusty Romanian-born coach, self-described as “very tough,” and not any of her five winsome U.S. Olympic gymnasts?

Gold has a way of overturning conventional wisdom.

Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian gave a teary-eyed national team coordinator Martha Karolyi the ultimate retirement present by winning the Olympic women’s gymnastics team event Tuesday.

Call it a two-peat for the London gold medalists. The women beat Russia by a stunning 8.2 points, bettering the five points of four years ago. China also landed on the podium with a bronze-medal effort.


It is the first time a country has won women’s team titles back-to-back at the Olympics since Romania did so in 2000 and 2004.

“Coming out in this arena, it feels like you’re in a movie or some insane amazing dream,” said Raisman, a member of the 2012 team.

Raisman and Douglas were the two returnees from London. The rookies were Hernandez, Biles and Kocian. Hernandez set the tone with a strong vault (15.100) as the first competitor on the opening rotation. Starting strong is no small thing as shown by the U.S. men in the team final when it had mistakes on the first two routines.

There was a remarkable consistency in the gold-medal effort. Ten of the team’s 12 routines — the women compete on four apparatuses — received scores of 15.000 or better.

The competition was suspenseful until the second rotation. The United States led by less than a point after one rotation and expanded its lead to 4.026 points after Russia suffered through a messy balance beam effort and was passed by China.

Kocian, the uneven bars specialist, did her job on the second rotation on the bars, getting a score of 15.933.

Hernandez, Raisman and Biles were in the floor exercise for the fourth and final rotation. It turned almost into an intramural meet between the three with the gold all but decided. Hernandez wowed the crowd with her catchy and appealing routine, scoring 14.833. Raisman soared high and topped it — receiving a score of 15.366 — and had the crowd chanting, “USA, USA, USA.”

The lasting image was a powerful airborne display by Biles, who received a standing ovation.

“Laurie started out amazing and Aly went out there,” Biles said. “I was just so excited, ‘OK, it’s fine. We got this.’ They motivated me to do my best because I saw their routines.”

The routine received a 15.800 and Karolyi, not given to hyperbole, said: “I think her tumbling was sky high today. I think it was the best tumbling I ever saw in women’s gymnastics.”

The gold-medal winning women’s team in 1996 — coached by Martha Karolyi’s husband, Bela -- was called the Magnificent Seven. In 2012, the nickname was Fierce Five.

The gymnasts decided they liked Final Five for this campaign for a two reasons. It was a tribute to Karolyi’s final waltz, so to speak, and also a reference to the upcoming change in the Olympic format, in which teams can use only four gymnasts in the final, not five.

When they had clinched the gold, the gymnasts went out to celebrate and shouted the nickname. Raisman said they were able to keep it secret and made Karolyi cry when they told her about the tribute.

“It’s really amazing. It hasn’t sunk in at all yet,” Raisman said. “It’s hard to say because it’s two different teams. They’re both very special and they mean so much to me. I cried four years ago and I didn’t cry this time.”

Raisman said Biles saw a reference to the Final Five online and immediately texted her teammates. They instantly liked the nickname.

“Without her [Karolyi], we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this,” Raisman said. “It meant a lot to her. We explained the name to her right after the meet and she started crying.”

Karolyi said it might have been the first time she had cried at an Olympics since Nadia Comaneci of Romania won her first gold medal in Montreal in 1976.

“I think that was the only time, probably,” Karolyi said. “From my nature, I’m really not a sentimental person.”

That drew some laughter from the assembled media corps.

“I’m known [for] being very tough,” she said. “I felt like, ‘Oh, what’s happening to me? What is this?’”

Douglas, for one, can’t imagine the sport without Karolyi coaching and doesn’t quite believe the 73-year-old will actually retire.

Karolyi said she won’t change her mind, smiling: “I guess I will have to become a normal person.”

Twitter: @reallisa


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