clock menu more-arrow no yes

Rio 2016: the US women’s gymnastics team’s sheer domination, explained

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: (L to R) Gold medalists Alexandra Raisman, Madison Kocian, Lauren Hernandez, Gabrielle Douglas and Simone Biles of the United States pose for photographs with their medals after the medal ceremony for the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: (L to R) Gold medalists Alexandra Raisman, Madison Kocian, Lauren Hernandez, Gabrielle Douglas and Simone Biles of the United States pose for photographs with their medals after the medal ceremony for the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The 2016 Olympic women’s gymnastics team final wasn’t a competition, it was a clinic taught by Team USA. During Simone Biles’s floor routine, with the gold medal essentially clinched, you could see the Russian team — the Americans’ bitter rivals for the last few Olympics — watching Biles work her magic.

The US team should have handed out participation ribbons and charged a fee.

Like we said they would, the Americans ran away with Olympic gold, beating the Russian team by eight points — an ocean of difference in a sport that often comes down to fractions of fractions of points.

There was no drama. There was no excitement. There was no suspense.

Despite the presence of glitter, eye shadow, and elegance, the Olympics women’s gymnastics team final was a slaughter. Here’s how the US team did it.

Simone Biles was Simone Biles

There’s a point where you run out of words to describe Simone Biles’s dominance. The woman has not lost a team or all-around competition in three years. That’s three years with a target on your back. Three years where everyone dusts off their A-game to give you their best shot. Three years of people waiting for you to crack. Three years of competing against yourself because you’re your only true competition.

To me, Biles’s most impressive achievement is that she’s maintained her edge, gotten better and better, and always taken care of business.

Just like she did on Tuesday.

Biles was the only American gymnast to compete in all four events in the team all-around competition, turning in a cumulative score of 61.833. She had the highest score of the night on vault, beam, and floor.

The highest compliment you can give Simone Biles is that she performed like Simone Biles. And Biles was every bit of herself during the team finals.

The US’s "weakest" event was better than any team’s strongest

The scouting report on the US team for the past couple of years has been that if any evidence exists to prove that they are mortal, it’s in the uneven bars. At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Russia’s bevy of skilled bar routines and the US’s weakness in the event kept the team final interesting for a rotation or two.

In Rio, as the US headed to the bars for its second event rotation, it led over Russia by seven-tenths of a point (46.866 to 46.166). The US had already completed one of its core events, the vault, while Russia finished its best event, the bars.

The lead wasn’t that big.

For a brief moment, the competition threatened to get interesting. But Team USA’s two bars competitors — 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas, and bars specialist Madison Kocian — were having no part of that. Douglas and Kocian turned in two of the top three bars performances of the night.

Douglas earned a score of 15.766, the night’s second highest score in the event. Kocian earned a 15.933, tying Russia’s Aliya Mustafina for the highest score. Biles’s led off the event with a 14.800, giving the US a total of 46.499 on bars — the highest score of the night on bars, and the second highest team score on any apparatus in the competition, behind their own score on vault. Team USA actually scored higher on bars than it did on the floor (45.999), which is considered their strongest event.

Neither Kocian nor Douglas competed in any of the other events. But their contribution was enough to stretch Team USA’s lead over the competition to about four points — a gap that would only grow as the night progressed.

This team is the greatest gymnastics team of all time

Watching the competition on Tuesday, there was something almost academic about the US team. There wasn’t any overwhelming emotion. There wasn’t any fear. For viewers, there was only the sense that we were witnessing perfection.

It was more an exercise in greatness than it was an experience to live again and again. There was no Kerri Strug destroying her tiny ankle to ensure an American gold medal. There was no last-minute Russian meltdown. There was no miracle performance.

The Americans arrived in Rio as heavy favorites, did what they were supposed to do, and with surgical precision and the force of a freight train, mowed down the competition.

"This is a team where the 2012 Olympic all-around champion is basically an afterthought," says Dave Lease, who runs the the figure skating and gymnastics website TSL. Lease compared this year’s team — who’ve dubbed themselves the Final Five, in celebration of being the last American team led by retiring coach Martha Karolyi — to basketball’s 1992 Dream Team.

"We have Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, one-two punch [Michael] Jordan and [Scottie] Pippen," he told me Tuesday night, predicting that "they are going to kill it in the all-around finals. They are going to make Martha and the rest of America happy," he said.

ESPN’s Johnette Howard went one step further, calling the team the best that women’s gymnastics has ever seen:

But by any measure — the scores, the eyeball test, the consistently spectacular routines these five women threw out, the amplitude of the skills they perform, their imperviousness to pressure — it's easy to make the case that this team is the best women's team ever assembled.

When surveying the greatest gymnastics teams in history, the Soviet teams in the '80s (the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 games) as well as Soviet 1992 team in Barcelona are considered the standard. Lease says this team is just as good, if not better than those teams.

"We nailed it on a level that the world can respect," he said, explaining that though we’ve won in the past, it’s never been in such a dominating fashion. "[The US is] now an entity that polishes its gold medals. That’s what this team has done. That’s how good this team is."

The only question now is how much legacy still remains to be written. Before the Rio Olympics are through, Biles and Aly Raisman will compete in the individual all-around event (after finishing first and second, respectively, in the qualifying competition). Kocian and Douglas will vie for medals on bars. All five members of the team have a solid (and in some cases, practically guaranteed) chance of adding to their medal count.

And on the horizon — there’s always 2020.


Rio Olympics 2016: Michael Phelps vs. Chad Le Clos, the rivalry

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.