Column: U.S. women gymnasts are not only giants, they are golden

U.S. women’s gymnastics team
Members of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team -- (from left) Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian, Lauren Hernandez, Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas -- celebrate after receiving their gold medals Tuesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

They are five women tiny enough to huddle under a single American flag. Chalky and taped, they competed in spandex and crystals.

Yet they are giants. And they are gold.

 “I haven’t found the word for this yet,” said Simone Biles, her eyes wide, her medal huge. “I need a dictionary.”

Open that book and start at the beginning, with amazing, which best describes the dominance of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team in winning their second straight Olympic gold medal Tuesday at Rio Olympic Arena.


The pixies pummeled. Their 8.2-point victory over Russia was the largest team margin in 56 years.

The smallest American Olympic team started tough, taking the lead when Biles soared halfway to Sao Paulo on her opening vault and never being threatened again.

“I hit it and I was like, OK, it’s fine, we got this,” Biles said.

Did they ever. Wearing star-spangled leotards containing nearly 5,000 crystals each, fueled by constant smiles through gritted teeth, they flew to a championship that many believe qualifies them as the best gymnastics team ever.


“I believe that they are best,’’ said Martha Karolyi, the famed national team coordinator who is retiring after these Games. “These girls demonstrated if you work hard and have discipline, you can achieve big things.’’

That discipline kicked in from the first rotation, when Laurie Hernandez, 16, felt the stress of vaulting into history.

 “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness … we’re at the Olympics!’” Hernandez said. “Then I looked back and I was like, ‘No, no, no, we’re just in practice, you got this.”

Biles, 4-foot-8, registered the afternoon’s highest score on the vault. Madison Kocian was a floating pretzel on the uneven bars. Biles bounced around the balance beam like it was a football field. Then Hernandez shimmied through the floor exercises to rhythmic stomps and constant roars.

The competition officially ended when Biles finished her floor routine to a standing ovation, soaking in the moment for a team that hasn’t lost a big meet since before the 2012 London Olympics.

“It was overwhelming,’’ she said.

Biles, Kocian and Hernandez were joined by teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas in a giant embrace, then the women put their hands together and and threw them in the air while shouting out a new team nickname they had been keeping a secret.

“The Final Five!” they screamed, which is far different from London’s  “Fierce Five,” but just as meaningful.


This is the last Olympics where five gymnasts will represent each country in the team competition — it will be reduced to four in Tokyo in 2020. More than that, the women were also honoring the last ride of Karolyi, who only learned of the name after they shouted it.

“Hear about the ‘Final Five’ made me cry, don’t remind me, I don’t want to cry again,” Karolyi said.

Her team wasn’t as emotional during the medal ceremony, not one tear was shed, but for varying reasons.

Said Kocian: “I didn’t cry because I was too overwhelmed.”

Said Douglas: “I didn’t cry because I wasn’t wearing waterproof mascara, and that would have stung!”

What Douglas might have meant is that this is anti-climatic after her all-around championship in 2012. She is just a role player on this team and her body language during the medal ceremony revealed a certain indifference.

“It feels the same as four years ago,” Douglas countered. “It feels great.”


They are not only one of the toughest Olympic teams ever, they are also one of the most real.

They aren’t just representing America. They look like America.

They are composed of an African American raised by her grandparents in Houston, an African American who trained in Iowa, a second-generation Puerto Rican from New Jersey, a Jewish woman from outside Boston, a Dallas woman who is headed for UCLA.

“And they’re all genuine, good people, care about each other, care about their families, they don’t wander around with blinders on and with attitude,’’ said Aimee Borman, Biles’ coach. “They want to be known as real people.’’

Real, as in, real silly, a group of women who have been running around the Olympic Village like it was a freshman dorm.

Earlier this week, Kocian tweeted a photo of the five women posing with tongues wagging and kisses being blown.

“Ready to rock it at the podium training with these babes,’’ it read.

There have been photos of Raisman tucking Hernandez into bed, of Biles posing with the giant DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, of the girls playing foosball and ping pong.

There has even been a Twitter exchange between Biles and — heaven help us  — Kim Kardashian. The noted opportunist tweeted that her daughter North was watching Biles and “rolling around on the bed pretending to copy her.” Biles responded, “Aww, that is just too cute…she’ll be my mini-me.”

The women are so bubbly that Karolyi had to ask them to settle down before Sunday’s qualifying and remind them where they were. No such warning was needed Tuesday, not after Biles was awakened late Monday night with what she called a “’weird” dream.

She was asked to describe the dream.

“No!” she said seriously. “It was real weird.”

In the end, after they had stepped on to the podium in their flashy yellow sneakers, they were draped with gold medals that looked bigger than them.

“My heaviest medal,” Kocian groaned.

In keeping with tradition, they invited second-place Russia and third-place China to join them on the top platform. But as the Russian and Chinese women held up their medals and smiled, the Americans put their medal up to their mouths.

At which point, the toughest team in America bit them.

Twitter: @billplaschke


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