If you watched NBC's prime time coverage of the women's gymnastics team final, you were deceived -- the U.S.'s crushing defeat of Russia was even more brutal than the network's packaged show. In order to create a sense of drama on the last event, floor, NBC showed Aly Raisman falling in the warmup, and more importantly, ignored a fall by one of the Russians. By the time it was the Americans' turn to do their impressive flips and weird little dance moves, all they had to do to secure the gold medal was not fall flat on their faces. Multiple times each.
That's not to say the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Lots of fans picked Russia to win, given their increased difficulty scores, their huge advantage over the U.S. on bars, and their more graceful style that international judges tend to reward. But the U.S. women gave some of the best performances of their lives, and Russia choked. In the end it was a drubbing. Let's see how it happened.
Both the U.S. and Russia dedicated one spot on their five-member teams to a gymnast who only competed vault. Both McKayla Maroney and Maria Paseka were brought to the Olympics to throw the Amanar. Maroney did her job:
And she knew it:
Paseka did not.
The U.S. had three team members who do Amanars -- the difficult and dangerous vault we've heard so much about -- while Russia only had two. Aliya Mustafina made the most of her less valuable double-twisting Yurchenko -- that's one and a half flips plus two twists.
Viktoria Komova and Paseka gave away points on their landings. At the end of this event, the U.S. had an almost 2-point lead.
A note on scoring: We have received requests to explain the confusing system NBC has adopted to explain the confusing scoring system that replaced the perfect 10. Don't bother with their green, yellow, red ratings. To keep it simple, if you want to win, you need a score above 15 on beam and floor. You want at least a mid-15 on bars. And you want as close to 16 as possible on vault. Only Maroney has scored over a 16 so far.
This is where Russia had the chance to destroy the U.S. The Americans are just not as good at bars. Our one bars star, Gabby Douglas, performs her skills beautifully, but the Russians still have the difficulty advantage. Douglas got amazing air time on her release moves, but only scored a 15.2. Kyla Ross got a 14.933 and Jordyn Wieber got a 14.666.
Komova, Russia's best performer on bars, got a 15.766.
Her teammate Anastasia Grishina got a 14.7 and Aliya Mustafina scored 15.7. The U.S. lead shrunk to 0.4 points.
With the American lead narrowed, there was a huge chance the Russians could overtake them. Jordyn Wieber's beam didn't score very well in prelims, Gabby Douglas carries the stigma of having choked on beam many times early in her career, and Aly Raisman tends to get deductions for her leaps.
But Russia gave it away. Aliya Mustafina made big wobbles. Viktoria Komova, whose style is closest to the ease and grace showed by Nadia Comaneci...
...gave away tenths of a point on wobbles....
... and was so off on her dismount that she had to run off the mat to keep from falling on her butt.
Beam is where Russian tears made their first appearance. The Americans held it together. Kyla Ross lead off with a steady routine.
Douglas did one of the most solid routines she's ever done in competition -- no big wobbles, no falls.
And Raisman, who's always reliable on beam, anchored the event:
The American lead grew to 1.3 points.
Aliya Mustafina performed beautifully on floor. She's a sentimental favorite among fans for her dramatic style. NBC calls her a "diva," which seems to apply to any female athlete who wears girly things and really wants to win.
She doesn't have the same high difficulty score since she tore her ACL on an Amanar in 2011, and when she finished, you could see her favoring one leg a little. Her tumbling isn't as sharp anymore. But she did her job.
Next was Anastasia Grishina. The Russians chose Grishina over Komova, who qualified in first place in the all-around in prelims. That's perhaps because Komova sometimes loses energy late in the competition, and because Grishina just learned a difficult double-twisting-double-back-flip tumbling run. But she couldn't finish her second tumbling pass. Here's what it was supposed to look like:
That's a round-off, a one-and-a-half twisting flip into a round-off, back handspring, triple-twisting flip. But in team finals, Grishina overrotated the one-and-a-half twisting flip, which screwed up her timing. She had too much head-over-foot momentum, and crashed onto her forearm on her round-off. She couldn't save it.
Then came Ksenia Afanasyeva's routine, which was redacted for dramatic purposes Tuesday night. Afanasyeva is the 2011 world champion on floor, and while there was little chance Russia could come back, there's always that tiny sliver of hope. Prime time viewers missed Afanasyeva's signature beautiful dance:
As well as some newer, weirder choreography:
She was looking great. But on her last tumbling run, a piked double back flip, she crashed.
In slow-motion, you can see her struggling to get it around. It probably really hurt her ankles.
That's when NBC showed a Russian trail of tears:
Then USA just pretty much owned the floor. Jordyn Wieber did an amazing double-twisting double-back flip:
And hit the tumbling pass Grishina screwed up:
Aly Raisman took out the last flip in her super-hard tumbling run just to play it safe. She needed just over a 10 to win. To put that in perspective, Grishina scored a 12.466, so Raisman would have needed a Grishina-eqsue epic fail plus two more falls to lose the gold for the team.
Her last pass was the same as the one Afanasyeva fell on, but Raisman did it perfectly:
As she landed it, she started crying.
The American team knew they'd won, but had to wait for Raisman's score to make it official:
The Russians cried over their silver. This is one reason fans love Russia: they haven't been media trained to say they are just happy to be there.
Raisman, Douglas, Komova, and Mustafina will fight for the all-around title Thursday against 20 other gymnasts.
Want more gymnastics? Check out our other GIF guides:
- What to Watch For in the Women's Gymnastics All-Around Finals, in GIFs