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At the London Olympics, the U.S. women's gymnastics team did what it was expected to do yesterday - and then some. The five Americans won the gold medal. It's the first time in 16 years that's happened for a U.S. women's team. And they did it in a big way - beating second place Russia by what team members called a huge margin. From London, NPR's Tom Goldman has the story.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: British athletes here talk about the pressure to perform well in their home-country Olympics. But at least they don't have to deal with the Sports Illustrated jinx. The curse of being on the cover of the popular magazine and then failing has befallen many an elite athlete. So it was uh-oh time for the U.S. women's gymnastics team when they graced the front of last week's issue - the Olympic preview.
But these girls, average age just over 16, who comprise the women's team are good. Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney walloped the competition - and they beat the jinx.
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GOLDMAN: As Raisman, the final competitor, bounded toward the finish of her spirited floor routine, to "Hava Nigila" the outcome hardly was in doubt.
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GOLDMAN: Still, Raisman and her teammates linked hands on the sideline and stared anxiously at the scoreboard. Maybe that was just teenagers being dramatic. They do that sometimes. Because the real drama, who would win the competition, had been over for some time. Perhaps from the moment Jordyn Wieber, the first competitor of the night, sprinted toward the vault, launched herself skyward and stuck the landing.
MIHAI BRESTAYN: You know, other kids, they hit their routine. I cannot point one better or the other one.
GOLDMAN: Maybe Raisman's coach Mihai Brestayn can't. But national team coordinator Marta Karolyi can. After Wieber's vault, Gabby Douglas, a pogo-stick nicknamed the Flying Squirrel, nailed another. Both were great, but mere prelude to vault world champion McKayla Maroney, who soared and then landed on her feet with the certainty of an arrow in the bullseye. Here's Karolyi:
MARTA KAROLYI: That was the best.
GOLDMAN: With all three Americans nailing their Amanars - the name of a difficult, extra points-producing vault - the U.S. moved to the next discipline, uneven bars, with a good lead it never gave up. And, says Karolyi, the Americans performed with the kind of confidence the athletes have been working hard to build.
KAROLYI: We put the girls in a situation where they mimic how we compete and what we have to do. And put extra pressure, you know, in our training. You do a good routine. Doesn't matter, you have to do one specific good routine.
GOLDMAN: The psychological training appears to have helped Wieber in particular. She was distraught a couple of days ago after she failed to qualify for the individual all-around finals - a competition she won at last year's world championships. She was the fourth highest qualifier in the Olympic preliminaries, but the third American. The rules say only two athletes per country go on to the finals. Last night, Wieber said the rules stink. But she was also pleased at the way she rebounded from the disappointment to help her team win.
JORDYN WIEBER: At first I just kind of had to stay to myself and really just, you know, be able to mentally turn it around and I just kind of stay in my little bubble and get re-focused and everything was fine the next day.
GOLDMAN: Actually more than fine. Marta Karolyi christened this deep, talented team as the best. Better than the 1996 squad - the so-called Magnificent Seven - that won the event at the Atlanta Olympics. And certainly better than any team in the world today.
Tom Goldman, NPR News, London.
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