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American gymnasts live up to hype with women's gold

LOCALS IN LONDON

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U.S. gymnasts, front left to right, Gabrielle Douglas, Kyla Ross, McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber celebrate as they look at the score of a teammate's performance during the Artistic Gymnastics women's team final at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Tuesday.

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U.S. head coach John Geddert hugs gymnast Gabrielle Douglas after her performance during the Artistic Gymnastics women's team final at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Tuesday.

LONDON — The Americans lived up to their considerable hype Tuesday, routing Russia and everybody else on the way to their first Olympic women's team gymnastics title since 1996.

Their score of 183.596 was a whopping five points ahead of Russia, and they were so far ahead their last event, floor exercise, was more like a coronation. Romania won the bronze.

With the Russians on the sidelines crying, the Americans stood at the center of the flow, clapping, cheering and basking in a golden glow. When the score for captain Aly Raisman flashed, the Americans screamed and a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rang out around the arena. The women held up their index fingers to the cameras — as if anyone had ever had any doubt.

"We knew we could do it, we just had to pull out all the stops," Raisman said.

"This is the best team all-time," added U.S. coach John Geddert, who is also Jordyn Wieber's personal coach. "Others might disagree, the '96 team might disagree. But this is the best team. Difficulty-wise, consistency wise, this is USA's finest."

The Americans had come into the last two Olympics as world champions, only to leave without a gold. But this team was the strongest, top to bottom, the United States ever had — national team coordinator Martha Karolyi had it in mind a good six months ago — and the rest of the world never stood a chance. After the U.S. opened with a barrage of booming vaults, everyone else was playing for silver.

"I must recognize United States lead this competition from beginning to end," Romanian coach Octavian Belu said. "Other countries just tried to do something to get on the podium."

Some teenagers might find that pressure tough to bear, but the Americans reveled in it. When they saw the Russians and Romanians peeking in the doorway during training sessions, they would add some extra oomph to their routines, the better to intimidate the competition.

Even the shock of world champion Jordyn Wieber failing to qualify for Thursday's all-around final after finishing behind Raisman and Gabby Douglas in qualifying couldn't distract them.

"There were a lot of rumors that we couldn't do this because we won worlds, and there were a lot of doubts," McKayla Maroney said. "We went out there to prove something and that's what we did."

The Americans knew Russia would be its biggest competition, especially with the return of 2010 world champion Aliya Mustafina, who missed last year's world championships after blowing out her left anterior cruciate ligament. But they essentially won the gold medal with their first event, vault, putting on a fireworks show right in front of the Russians.

All of the Americans do Amanars, one of the toughest vaults in the world — a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the table and 2.5 twisting somersaults before landing. It's got a start value — the measure of difficulty — of 6.5, a whopping 0.7 above the vault most other gymnasts do, and they ripped off one massive one after another.

"Starting out on vault was really good for us," Wieber said. "Just kind of kickstarting the competition like that was really good for us, and we just carried everything through to the next three events."

Russia erased all but four-tenths of the deficit on uneven bars, where Viktoria Komova and Mustafina defy the laws of gravity, but the team began falling apart on balance beam. Mustafina swayed and wobbled so badly on the landing of a leap it's a wonder she didn't fall off; Komova almost stepped on the judges on her dismount.

"We did everything we could," Komova said.

The Americans, meanwhile, made the 4-inch slab that stands 4 feet in the air look like child's play. Kyla Ross, the only American who wasn't on that world team last year (she was too young), looks like a ballerina with her long legs and gorgeous lines. She landed one somersault with her left foot curled over the edge of the beam, yet never flinched.

While the Russians struggled — Anastasia Grishina stumbled forward on one pass and botched another when she all but came to a dead stop in the middle of the floor, and world champion Ksenia Afanaseva landed her dismount on her knees — the Americans turned the arena into their own party.