Gymnastics: U.S. dominates team qualifying

Will Graves
Associated Press

Rio de Janeiro — The nerves were there.

Unmistakable. Unavoidable.

Standing in the darkened tunnel before entering Rio Olympic Arena on Sunday night, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team felt the pressure that comes not from outside expectations but those held within.

Then the lights came on.

And just like that, the young women in the glittery red-and-blue leotards national team coordinator Martha Karolyi has molded into a global force relaxed.

And dominated.

On bars. On beam. On vault. On floor.

Their not-a-typo score of 185.238 was nearly 10 points better than China through four of the five subdivisions, a preposterous gap in a sport in which the difference between first and second is measured in fractions.

“It’s never 100 percent perfect but I think we showed that our gymnastics is of the highest level,” national Karolyi said.

One no opponent is close to reaching. If the U.S. swapped its highest score on each event with its lowest, it still would lead by six points.

Three-time world champion Simone Biles led the way. Her score of 62.366 was well clear of teammate Aly Raisman. So much for the butterflies in her stomach.

“I do a very good job at hiding it,” Biles said. “The team, we just calm it down.”

Consider it a luxury of being so far beyond the rest of the planet. All five women earned a spot in either the all-around or event finals, or in the case of Biles and Raisman, both.

Raisman, a three-time Olympic medalist four years ago, grabbed the second spot in the individual all-around for the Americans by edging reigning Olympic champion Gabby Douglas thanks in part to what Raisman called “the best bar routine of my life.”

Rules limit each country to two gymnasts per event in the all-around and event finals, meaning even though Douglas was third overall, she’ll miss out on a chance to defend the crown she won in London. Not that she was moping. When Raisman drilled her dismount on beam, Douglas rose from her chair and gave Raisman a hug.

A controversial selection to the five-woman team after a so-so performance at the Trials, Douglas validated Karolyi’s choice with steady performances, including a bars set that earned her a spot in the individual finals.

“She said ‘I believe in you, and you can go out and do it,’” Douglas said. “At the end of the day that means so much … because she’s very precise. It feels good.”

The top eight teams in qualifying move to Tuesday’s team final, where the U.S. is expected to repeat the gold it won easily in London.

“My expectations are higher for you than anyone else’s,” she said.

“What I’m trying to do is get the most out of every single person.”

No wonder Russian star Aliya Mustafina figures everybody is playing for silver.

“It’s going to be really difficult to compete against the American team,” Mustafina said. “They are unbeatable at the moment.”