|McKayla Maroney celebrates the spectacular vault that put the U.S. in control of the team gymnastics finals. (Getty Images)|
The hyped U.S. women dominated Monday's gymnastics finals with an emphatic 5.66-point victory, claiming their first Olympic team title since Kerri Strug vaulted on one leg in 1996 in Atlanta.
Russia, which claimed silver, entered the fourth and final rotation, the floor exercise, with distant hopes of catching the U.S. But a weak 12.466 by Anastasia Grishina slammed the door shut, and Gabby Douglas' 15.066, Jordyn Wieber's 15.0, and Aly Raisman's 15.3 provided the crushing final margin.
"Others might disagree. The '96 team might disagree. But this is the best team," U.S. coach John Geddert said afterward.
Given the legacy of Strug's iconic moment, it's appropriate the 2012 version's defining moment came on the same apparatus. A day after the U.S. men faltered early under the weight of their gold medal hopes, the "Fab Five" began the competition proving their collective mettle with a dominant performance on the vault. Wieber and Douglas each topped 15.9 before vaulting specialist McKayla Maroney uncorked a spectacular 16.233, giving the U.S. a team score of 48.132.
For comparison, in Sunday's qualification round, no vaulter outside of the U.S. team scored higher than a 15.6. Eventual silver medalists Russia immediately followed the U.S. on the vault and posted a score of 46.366, the second-best vault score of the competition -- but one that already put them 1.7-plus points behind the Americans after one of the four rotations.
It was a lead the Americans would never relinquish, finishing with 183.596 points to Russia's 178.530. Romania took the bronze at 176.414, with 2008 gold medalists China fourth.
"The feeling was incredible," Wieber said. "To have this gold medal around your neck, it's really an indescribable feeling."
The U.S. followed up their vault performance with a solid showing on the uneven bars. Wieber scored a mistake-free 14.666, followed by Kyla Ross's 14.933. Douglas's 15.200 wasn't as high as she'd hoped, but gave the U.S. an acceptable score of 44.799.
The Russians' outstanding 46.166 on the uneven bars cut the U.S. lead to .4 points, 92.931 to 92.532. But the U.S. responded with a first-place performance on the balance beam, Ross scoring a 15.133, Douglas a 15.233, and Aly Raisman a 14.933. Aided by a wobbly showing by Russia's Aliya Mustafina (and her 14.533), the U.S.'s 45.299 total pushed their lead back to a comfortable 1.3 points entering the floor exercise.
Since the "Magnificent Seven" in 1996, the U.S hadn't quite gotten over the team finals hump, taking bronze in Sydney in 2000 and silver in Athens and Beijing. But the Americans entered Tuesday's finals as the clear favorites, then lived up to that billing and then some.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.