LONDON (Reuters) - Needing to surpass 10.234 points with her final floor routine, Aly Raisman could have fallen over, skidded out of bounds or both, and still scooped gold for United States’s newest gymnastics heroes - the Fierce Five.
As it was, she soared high in her tumbles, stuck her landings with a thud and flashed a smile as wide as the nearby Thames River as she finished with a flourish to cap a jaw-dropping night for the Americans.
Her team mates Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross did not have to wait for Raisman’s score to flash up to know they had beaten a self-destructing Russia to earn gold.
They squealed in delight and huddled together in celebration long before Raisman had stepped off the floor and when the 18-year-old’s score of 15.300 was announced, it showed they had beaten the opposition by a massive 5.066 points with a total of 183.596.
“There have been Fab Fives in the past but I like Fierce Five because we are definitely the fiercest team out there,” Maroney told reporters after the class of 2012 followed in the golden footsteps of the Magnificent Seven who triumphed in Atlanta in 1996.
“We were all babies and our first Olympics it was great to prove we could do this. I know there were a lot of doubts that we could do it and I am so happy we did.”
Their joy was in stark contrast to the bitter tears shed by Russia’s not-so-fierce-five, who had been snapping at the Americans’ heels all night but imploded with the finishing line in sight.
Aliya Mustafina, the 2010 world all-around champion, wobbled on the floor to draw 14.800, Anastasia Grishina appeared anything but world class as she stumbled to a shocking 12.466 and by the time Kseniia Afanseva landed on her head and knees after launching into her backward-piked somersault, the Russians knew it was all over.
It was little wonder that Douglas knew they were taking the gold back to the States as soon as Wieber, the penultimate competitor of the day, had finished off her electrifying floor routine to Wild Dances.
“After Jordyn went on the floor, I went “yes, we have this in the bag, we have it,” Douglas said with the gold medal hanging around her neck.
“I was so confident I knew it right then and there. Even in training I had feeling like we are the best in the world. I’m not being cocky or anything but I just had that feeling.”
Two days after an inconsolable Wieber fled the North Greenwich Arena in tears having missed out on a spot in the all-around final despite being the favorite for the individual crown, Tuesday’s victory was “redemption”.
Her poker ‘game face’ was back on as she launched the U.S. assault for gold after being given the task of going out first on the vault.
She was the first of three Americans to power down the runway and launch into the 2-1/2 twisting Amanar, which is one of the toughest vaults in gymnastics. She took a slight hop in landing but her high-flying effort earned her 15.933. Douglas topped her with 15.966 and Maroney stuck her dismount to perfection to draw 16.233.
By the halfway point of the competition, the expected duel between Team USA and Russia, who have split the last two world team titles, had caught fire as the Americans were leading their rivals by just 0.399 of a point.
Grouped together, the Americans opened up a 1.299 lead by the end of the third rotation after Russia’s Viktoria Komova completely slipped off the mat on her dismount from the balance beam.
By the time the two teams finished on floor, there was only one group wearing sparking red leotards who were holding aloft their index fingers in triumph.
However, the Russians were not the only one left sobbing as 2008 champions China also broke down after being edged out of the medals by a Romanian team who overcame a dreadful start on the asymmetric bars to snatch bronze.
While the Romanians, led by triple 2004 Olympic champion Catalina Ponor, celebrated being the only nation to win a women’s team medal for a 10th successive Games, China’s Sui Lu opted to leave the crying to her four team mates.
“If I cry, I will mess up my make-up,” she quipped.
Additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Alison Wildey