Simone Biles led the way for a talented American women's gymnastics squad that delivered on massive expectations Tuesday, winning gold in the team competition of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It was the team's second consecutive Olympic gold, setting a new standard in gymnastics.
This win was never in doubt: The 8-point gap between the U.S. and second-place Russia was the largest since 1960, when the Soviet Union defeated Czechoslovakia by 8.997 points in Rome.
China had seemed to be in control of second place, but it slipped on a shaky final rotation that included a fall in the floor exercise.
The Americans set the tone on the vault, their first apparatus of the day. That's where Biles posted a score of 15.933 that was the highest of any on Tuesday. They then moved on to dominate the uneven bars and the balance beam, finishing on the floor exercise — where Biles and her teammates Aly Raisman and Laura Hernandez sealed the victory and set off a party at Rio's Olympic Arena.
Days before this final, the Americans had dominated qualifying. They didn't let up today, leaving the other teams — Russia, China, Japan, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, and host Brazil — fighting for silver and bronze.
The U.S. team — which includes Gabrielle Douglas and Madison Kocian in addition to Hernandez, Raisman, and Biles — brought home the gold by scoring the most points in all four skills.
Update at 5:17 p.m. ET: That's It: U.S. Women Win Gold
With Biles earning a score of 15.800, the American team has captured the gold medal with an 8-point margin. Russia moved up to second place in the final rotation, with a score of 176.688 to the U.S. team's 184.897.
China fell to third, winning bronze with a final team score of 176.003.
Update at 5:10 p.m. ET: Biles Ices The Cake
Simone Biles' ability to explode off the floor and reach great heights is on full display in this routine, the last for the Americans. She's all smiles, and her music draws on the sounds of Brazil's famous carnival.
Her final pass ends in a landing that is exactly in time with the music's dramatic drum climax, and Biles finishes on the floor.
There are squeals and yells as the U.S. team hugs.
Update at 5:10 p.m. ET: Raisman Delivers
Aly Raisman's floor exercise is full of bounding energy and perfect landings, netting her a 15.366. It's the kind of routine that will be played repeatedly.
The crowd was invited into the party by Hernandez's routine, and now they're in it full-bore, clapping and chanting, "A-ly! A-ly!"
After greeting her teammates, Raisman goes down to the gymnasts on the Chinese team and gives each one a hug.
Update at 5:06 p.m. ET: Hernandez Leads Off
If the American squad is suffering from any nerves after a wait to take the floor, they may be feeling better now, after Hernandez turned in a loose, enthusiastic routine that drew the crowd into her performance.
Hernandez, 16, pulled off a layout into a double full and a front tuck, U.S. Gymnastics tells us. Her score: 14.833.
Update at 5 p.m. ET: Americans Set For Final Turns
The outcome hasn't seemed in doubt all week, and so far in today's programs, the U.S. has turned in only one score that was below a 15 — a 14.800 earned by Simone Biles on the uneven bars.
Update at 4:50 p.m. ET: The Floor
With one skill remaining, the U.S. has a score of 138.898, for an average of 15.433 per discipline. They're entering this final portion of the team final with a lead of nearly 5 points.
The Americans are rotating through their skills with China's gymnasts, who are now performing their floor routines.
China's Mao Yi is being forced to sit through an awkward delay as the judges tabulate her score. Anchoring her country's final rotation, she fell during her routine. Her score brings a loud cheer of encouragement from the crowd.
Update at 4:38 p.m. ET: China On The Beam
China's gymnasts are showing art and grace on the beam. We just watched Shang Chunsong — who at 20 is the oldest gymnast on her team — leap and spin through a set that left her smiling as she left the landing pad.
Perhaps these gymnasts' moms should have stitched their names into their team jackets: We just watched a couple of them sift through some of the jackets, putting them on and taking them off, as if they were trying to find the right one. Close inspections seemed to save the day.
There was what seemed to be a long delay before China's final score for the beam appeared; the team's fans didn't seem to mind, waving their country's flag and bouncing along to the music in the arena.
Update at 4:18 p.m. ET: Raisman, Hernandez And Biles On The Beam
After a small wobble early in her beam program, Aly Raisman recovers and lands her leaps and flips with speed and precision. She then takes a couple of deep breaths, walks purposefully to the other end of the beam and launches herself off and into a sharp landing. As USA Gymnastics says on their Twitter feed, Raisman stuck an Arabian double in her program.
She's followed by Hernandez, who turns in an amazing performance on the beam. There are flawless layouts and a double pike on the landing. With a score of 15.233, she tops Raisman's score (15.000).
Biles follows with a routine that shows she's capable of at least a fraction of the human wobbles the rest of us might feel if we were even contemplating some of she's pulling off. In one striking sequence, she spins around on the beam. In another, she explodes off the end of the beam and into a flawless landing. The judges give her a 15.300.
Update at 4:06 p.m. ET: Halfway Through, U.S. Leads By 4 Points
With two of the four apparati now completed, the American team now has a four-point lead, and China has moved into second position ahead of Russia. It's the U.S. at 93.365, followed by China with 89.339.
Update at 4 p.m. ET: Douglas And Kocian Shine
For Gabby Douglas, today's team finals are nearly the end of the road. As NPR's Melissa Block has reported, she won't move on to the all-around competition because of the Olympics' limits of two athletes per country — and Raisman and Biles earned those spots. Douglas nails her landing off the bars and bounces off the landing pad, all smiles.
She's followed by Kocian — whose routine looks flawless to these untrained eyes, and which culminates in a twisting dismount that earns a large and loud cheer from the crowd at the Rio Olympic Arena.
Afterwards, Kocian and Douglas do something that didn't happen after the vaults: they stand and laugh and talk for minutes. Clearly, they are feeling great about their routines.
Note: Watching this live, we do not have the benefit of hearing highly knowledgeable gymnastics analysts tell us what all these contortions and flips are, so we're focused on describing what's going on.
Update at 3:50 p.m. ET: Uneven Bars
After watching the Chinese athletes perform their routines on the uneven bars, the U.S. squad is finally called. Biles will lead off, followed by Douglas, Kocian, Raisman, and Hernandez.
The Americans take turns warming up on the bars, running through their routines. Because this is essentially a practice, Kocian's twisting and flipping landing, which looks impossible to our eyes, gets no applause.
Biles follows with her routine — and her landing is so sound and straight that it looks like she's just returned to her roots on the ground.
The arena is quite loud at times with cheering — particularly for the Brazilian team that's concurrently competing on the floor exercise.
Update at 3:35 p.m. ET: Looking At Scores
Because of the different times various disciplines require, there's been a pretty long delay between the vault, which is by far the quickest, to the slower uneven bars.
The U.S. and Chinese gymnasts present themselves to the judges — and some of the American athletes smile and laugh in speaking to them. The Chinese gymnasts are dressed in purple leotards with rows of glittering silver — an effect that's echoed in their glittery eye makeup.
After the first rotation, the U.S. team is in first place, with a combined 46.866 points. Russia is running a close second with 46.166 — a figure to keep in mind on the U.S. uneven bars rotation, which the Russian team just left.
Update at 3:20 p.m. ET: Uneven Bars
Next up: the uneven bars. The order for the U.S.: Biles; Douglas; Kocian; Raisman; and Hernandez. They're waiting for the two other teams to finish their turns on the apparatus.
Final scores are now in for the vault; the U.S. scored a 46.866 — more than 2 points above the 44.332 for the Chinese gymnasts.
Update at 3:10 p.m. ET: Simone Biles Soars On The Vault
After hurtling down the runway, Simone Biles' body becomes completely calm the second she hits the air on her vault. She lands cleanly and beams. There are no penalties on her score.
No major glitches so far for the U.S., and the team is all business as it sits on the bench watching the Chinese gymnasts perform their vaults.
Update at 3:05 p.m. ET: Hernandez And Raisman Lead Off
Lauren Hernandez starts it off strong, landing smoothly. Aly Raisman follows, and has a slight separation on her landing. Both gymnasts get warm hugs from their teammates and coach Mihai Brestyan.