RIO DE JANEIRO – When the U.S. gymnasts ascended the podium, ready to bow their heads and receive their Olympic gold medals, not a single one of them shed a tear. “I imagined I’d be crying,” Simone Biles said. “But I think we’re all just too happy to cry.”
In the background, though, the one woman least likely to weep — national team coordinator Martha Karolyi — found herself wiping away tears. The American women were as dominant as expected in Tuesday’s team competition, blowing past runner-up Russia by more than eight points to take their second consecutive team gold at the Summer Games. The U.S. rolled up 184.897 points to the Russians’ 176.688, and China earned the bronze with 176.003.
The only thing in doubt at Rio Olympic Arena was the nickname the team would give itself. Its choice: the Final Five, to reflect its standing as the last group trained by Karolyi and the last to compete with five members on its Olympic roster. Teams will be limited to four gymnasts beginning with the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Karolyi will retire after the Rio Games, ending a 16-year tenure in which she transformed the U.S. women’s program from disorganized underachievers into a dynasty. Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian all said they wanted to send her out on a golden note. When they did, the famously steely Karolyi was surprised to feel her eyes grow moist.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, what’s happening to me?’ ” said Karolyi, who directed the U.S. to its first back-to-back team golds. “What is this? I’m really not a sentimental person.
“I’m extremely proud of these wonderful five girls, who are extremely dedicated. I’m so happy they were able to do the performance they did today.”
The U.S. was predicted to run away with the title. Led by the incomparable Biles, the Americans breezed through two days of competition in Rio without a single mistake. She set the pace again Tuesday, earning the day’s highest scores on vault (15.933), floor exercise (15.800) and balance beam (15.300). Kocian, a specialist on uneven bars, tied Russia’s Aliya Mustafina for the highest score on that apparatus (15.933).
Though many of Tuesday’s loudest ovations came for Brazil, the home team, several clumps of U.S. fans were scattered around the arena. They waved their flags so much their arms grew tired, thanks to a team whose every routine was worthy of roof-rattling praise.
Hernandez, 16, started it off with a solid vault. Biles and Raisman followed up by nailing a pair of notoriously difficult Amanars to hand the U.S. a lead that only grew larger.
Kocian’s bar routine earned a career-high score, and Douglas — who struggled in both the U.S. championships and Olympic trials — gave a smooth, assured performance. As each gymnast came off the mat, her teammates greeted her with a group hug, high-fives and easy smiles, showing just how loose the Americans were despite the heavy expectations.
“The energy just kept coming from every event,” Kocian said. “We just went out and hit our routines the way we do in practice.
“Martha told us before we went out that she had all her trust in us. She knew we could do it. We just had to be confident.”
For years, the monthly camps at Karolyi’s ranch have toughened her gymnasts for moments like these. The closest the U.S. came to a mistake was a few tiny wobbles on the balance beam. It closed out the gold on floor exercise, where Biles, Raisman and Hernandez brought down the house with their big-air tricks and showmanship.
The Americans will give encore performances later in the Games. Biles and Raisman will compete for the individual all-around gold Thursday. All five members qualified for the event finals on at least one apparatus, and Biles will perform on vault, beam and floor.
In London, the U.S. team — dubbed the “Fierce Five” — held hands as they awaited the final score, then cried together. This time, they formed a circle with their arms around each other, laughing and smiling before shouting a nickname they had been keeping secret for weeks.
“I totally thought we were going to cry,” said Hernandez, the team’s youngest member. “But we were just overwhelmed with excitement.”
They left the tears to Karolyi. She could remember crying only once before at a gymnastics meet, when Nadia Comaneci — whom Karolyi and her husband, Bela, molded into an Olympic champion and global superstar — won the all-around gold for Romania in 1976.
Martha said that Bela had some tears in his eyes, too, and offered just two words to his wife.
“He said, ‘Fantastic closing,’ ” she said. “And I feel the same way. It was a job well done, and I enjoyed every moment.”