This wasn't how the script went. The U.S. women's gymnastics team, which has dominated the sport for the better part of a decade, expected to cruise to victory with superstar Simone Biles seemingly destined to lift them to gold.
But competition Tuesday (27 July) inside the Ariake Gymnastics Centre did not go to plan with ROC winning gold. They posted a total of 169.528, while the U.S. came up short, earning 166.096. Great Britain took the bronze (164.096). It was the first time that the U.S. women have lost a world or Olympic team title since 2010.
Biles, clutching her silver medal, said "I owe this to the girls."
"It's definitely not the Olympics I thought it would be," Sunisa Lee added with a laugh. "We stepped up to the plate and did what we needed to do."
The issues for Team USA started early as Biles bailed out of a two-and-a-half twisting vault in the one-touch warmup after executing just one-and-a-half twists. She repeated the error in competition, posting just a 13.733 on the event where she is reigning world and Olympic champion.
Minutes later, Biles walked off and word quickly circulated that Biles had withdrawn from the event.
“Simone has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue," read a statement from USA Gymnastics. "She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”
ROC lead the standings by more than two points after vault and uneven bars. But things got tense after their first two competitors on the balance beam, Vladislava Urazova and Angelina Melnikova, fell off on their acro series and failed to break 13.000. 2021 European all-around champion Viktoria Listunova salvaged the rotation with a 14.333, giving ROC a .800 buffer heading to the final event.
By the time ROC floor anchor Melnikova saluted, she need just 10.534 to secure the gold.
“I was so focused when I went to the floor," she said. "I did my utmost for that. I knew that I could do it, so I did it. I was sure of myself.”
Melnikova delivered an 13.966.
The 2019 world all-around bronze medallist was in tears before she even got off the mat, running to embrace her teammates. Moments later, the tears flowed as confirmation of ROC's gold flashed on the scoreboard.
“After I landed the last tumbling pass, I understand that we did it," said Melnikova afterward through translation. "I never experienced anything like this in my life, because I knew immediately that we did it, that it was possible for us.”
Biles: 'I think they get a gold medal in fighting'
"I'm very proud," Biles told Tokyo 2020 afterward. "I think they get a gold medal in fighting. They never gave up. And look at them, they did exactly what I said they would do, they were going to go out there and do what they were supposed to. Now, they're Olympic silver medallists."
Grace McCallum said their performance Biles inspired their performance.
"We obviously did this for her," she said. "We went out there, and we showed out."
"Her! Just a couple pep talks," Jordan Chiles said, pointing to Biles, after being asked how she turned around mistakes from Sunday's qualifying competition. "When everything had happened, I knew I had put my feet into her shoes and show the world that I am capable of doing big things as well."