LONDON — The Americans grabbed hands and backed up, eager to get a better view of the scoreboard.
There was really no need. That Olympic gold medal was in the bag the minute they took the floor.
The Americans lived up to their considerable hype and then some Tuesday night, routing Russia and everybody else on their way to their first Olympic title since 1996. Their score of 183.596 was a whopping five points ahead of Russia, and they were so far ahead their last event, floor exercise, was more like a coronation.
With the Russians on the sidelines crying, the Americans stood at the center of the floor, clapping, cheering and basking in a golden glow. When the score for captain Aly Raisman flashed, the Americans screamed, and a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rang out around the arena. The women held up their index fingers for the cameras — just in case anyone had a doubt.
The Americans had come into the last two Olympics as world champions, only to leave without a gold. But this team is the strongest, top to bottom, the U.S. has ever had, and the rest of the world never stood a chance. After the U.S. opened with a barrage of booming vaults, everyone else was playing for silver.
Some teenagers might find that pressure tough to bear, but the Americans reveled in it. When they saw the Russians and Romanians peeking in the doorway during training sessions, they would add some extra oomph to their routines, the better to intimidate the competition.
And when the gold was on the line, the Americans were simply spectacular.
They essentially won the gold medal with their first event, vault, putting on a fireworks show right in front of the Russians.
All of the Americans do Amanars, one of the toughest vaults in the world — a round-off onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the table and 2.5 twisting somersaults before landing. It's got a start value — the measure of difficulty — of 6.5, which is 0.7 above the vault most other gymnasts do, and they ripped off one massive one after another.
World champion Jordyn Wieber went first and did perhaps the best one she's ever done, getting great height in the air with her legs locked together. When her feet slammed into the mat on landing, she threw up her arms and smiled broadly. Anyone who wondered how she would recover from the shock of failing to qualify for the all-around competition got their answer.
Gabby Douglas went next, and her vault was even better. And then came McKayla Maroney, who let everyone know why she's a heavy favorite to add the Olympic gold to her world title in vault. She got so much height on her Amanar, it's a wonder she didn't bump her head on the overhead camera. She hit the mat with tremendous force, yet didn't so much as wiggle, triumphantly thrusting her arms in the air as she saluted the judges.
The Americans strutted out of the event with a 1.7-point lead and never looked back.