The United States women’s gymnastics team is not just an overwhelming favorite to lift a second consecutive gold in the team final on Tuesday in Rio, but even its closest rivals claims it is “unbeatable.” In qualifying on Sunday, the U.S. finished a massive 10 points clear of its nearest competitor, China. To put that into perspective, there were less than four points separating second and the rest of the six qualifiers for the final. Having dominated the field four years ago in London, the U.S. looks to be in a league of its own in Rio.
Aliya Mustafina was a part of the Russia team that took the silver in London, but after qualifying on Sunday, in which her team came in third, she all but conceded the only battle was for which team would be best of the rest.
“It's going to be really difficult to compete against the American team, they are unbeatable at the moment," Mustafina, who won individual gold on uneven bars in 2012, said. "We need to fight, we need to do our best, and we'll see what happens."
The U.S. will line up with two gymnasts returning from London, in Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman. And Douglas, the 2012 individual all-around gold medalist, is likely to have added personal motivation to put in a standout performance. The 20-year-old will not get a chance to defend her individual title, after being bettered by both Raisman and Simone Biles in qualifying. Only two gymnasts from each country can compete in the individual all-around final, a rule which is particularly tough on the Americans, given the extraordinary depth of its team.
Still, there is no question that, just as the U.S. is far ahead of its competition, Biles is head and shoulders the best gymnast in the world. To many, she is already the best of all time. The team final is expected to be merely the start of her coronation in Rio. In qualifying, Biles recorded the best score in three of the four disciplines – floor, vault and balance beam.
In the other apparatus – the uneven bars – another American, Madison Kocian, who was selected for the team because of her expertise in the event, came out on top. The final member of the Unites States’ new quintet, Laurie Hernandez had the second best score on the balance beam. The 16-year-old, who became a sensation after finishing second in the Olympic trials last month, can consider herself unfortunate to have not even been put forward for individual all-around consideration.
Victory on Tuesday would give the U.S. its third women’s team gold, matching the achievement of Romania. Remarkably, despite earning a team medal in every Olympics since 1976 and winning bronze in London, Romania failed to qualify its team for Rio.
The format for the final will see the eight qualifiers split into pairs, based on their standings in qualifying, to compete over four rotations. The U.S. will be in the same rotation as China. Here’s the full schedule, with the U.S. lineup below.
Vault: USA, China
Uneven bars: Russia, Great Britain
Balance beam: Brazil, Germany
Floor exercise: Japan, Netherlands
Vault: Netherlands, Japan
Uneven bars: China, USA
Balance beam: Great Britain, Russia
Floor exercise: Germany, Brazil
Vault: Brazil, Germany
Uneven bars: Japan, Netherlands
Balance beam: USA, China
Floor exercise: Russia, Great Britain
Vault: Great Britain, Russia
Uneven bars: Germany, Brazil
Balance beam: Netherlands, Japan
Floor exercise: China, USA
Team USA Lineup
Vault: Hernandez, Raisman, Biles
Uneven bars: Biles, Douglas, Kocian
Balance beam: Raisman, Hernandez, Biles
Floor exercise: Hernandez, Raisman, Biles
Start Time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: NBC will be saving coverage of the women’s gymnastics team final for its primetime slot on NBC from 8 p.m. EDT.