LONDON — Members of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, clad in sparkly red uniforms, held hands and stared at the scoreboard at the conclusion of team finals Tuesday, looking frozen as they waited for the news they knew would come.
The five teenagers had just put forth a series of such solid performances that they led the competition from start to end, widening the gap with each event. Still, with hearts pounding, they saved their celebration until it was official.
Minutes later, when the United States appeared at the top of the leaderboard — announcing that the Americans had won the Olympic team gold medal — the gymnasts could no longer contain their joy. As chants of U-S-A roared throughout the arena, they smothered each other in hugs and wiped away happy tears.
“We knew that we could do it because we did it at worlds, but you just never know," said McKayla Maroney, 16, who competed only on vault. “Now I can’t believe I have an Olympic gold medal hanging around my neck. It’s really unbelievable."
The Olympic victory was a long time coming — it was the first one for the U.S. women’s team since the Magnificent Seven’s gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games. This time, though, there was no last-minute drama like Kerri Strug landing her vault on an injured ankle.
This time, there were no surprises. The U.S. women — the reigning world champion — won by the biggest margin of victory in 52 years.
The United States, which finished first on all four events but the uneven bars, scored 183.596 points. Russia was 5.066 points back to win the silver medal. Romania won the bronze, 7.182 points back. China finished fourth, failing to defend the gold medal it won at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The Russians and the Chinese, who at some point were within striking distance of first place, left the arena weeping.
Bela Karolyi, who coached the 1996 Olympic gold medal team, said the U.S. team’s strong performance — in which there was nary a major mistake — was rare.
“I’ve seen it once or twice, but really very, very seldom," he said. “Back in the old day, the Soviet teams from time to time done that trick, but since then, I’ve never seen it."
The Americans started their night with what Karolyi called their secret weapon: the vault. In the team final, only three gymnasts from each team perform on each apparatus. And first up was Jordyn Wieber, the reigning world champion in the all-around who, when last seen at the Olympic arena, was sobbing.
On Sunday, she failed to qualify for the all-around final after finishing third among the Americans and fourth overall. The top 24 gymnasts compete in the all-around final, but each team can send only its top two performers.
Wieber, 17, did not let that disappointment break her, sprinting down the vault runway at rocket-launching speed before sending her muscled body flying. She took only a little step on the landing before walking away, flashing a huge smile.
“I felt like I had to redeem myself, and I think I did that tonight," she said. “But in the end, my initial goal was to be part of a team that won a gold medal. I really wanted to be a part of this."
Wieber’s vault received a score of 15.933, and when she stepped off the floor, coach John Geddert said one word to her: redemption.
It was exactly what the rest of the team needed as motivation. Wieber’s effort sparked her teammates to go big, too. The wispy Gabby Douglas, 16, looked weightless as she soared, flipped and twisted, scoring 15.966 points.
Then came the U.S. team’s exclamation point: Maroney, the world champion on vault, scored 16.233 points after getting so much air that she nearly hit the rafters. She was so thrilled that she danced off the floor.
The Americans landed three strong vaults, each the very difficult Amanar vault, which includes one flip with 21⁄2 twists. For some countries, it is an impossibility that even one of its gymnasts can land it. The entire U.S. team, though, performed it with ease.
“It was amazing how we started — boom, boom, boom," Maroney said.
As the team — Wieber, Douglas, Maroney, team captain Aly Raisman, 18, and Kyla Ross, 15 — moved from event to event, the other teams started to crumble.
The Chinese made a string of errors on the balance beam and the floor exercise, looking uncharacteristically sloppy.
The Russians held it together until their final event — the floor exercise. Anastasia Grishina totally balked on one of her tumbling passes, leaving it out then leaving the floor fighting back tears. Next, Kseniia Afanaseva, the reigning world champion in floor exercise, landed her final tumbling pass on her knees — and nearly her head.
Minutes later, nearly the entire Russian team was in tears sitting against the arena wall and watching the Americans tumble.
The rest of the Olympic action Tuesday:
The U.S. men’s team got off to a slow start against Tunisia, then took off when coach Mike Krzyzewski went to his reserves. Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love scored 16 points apiece to lead Team USA to a 110-63 victory. Kevin Durant added 13 and Anthony Davis had 12 for the Americans, who will face Nigeria on Thursday night. Anthony, Love, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala opened the third quarter with a 21-3 run, turning a surprisingly close 13-point lead into a 67-36 bulge before any of the more celebrated starters finally got to play in the second half.
Zara Phillips gave the royal family plenty to cheer about, helping team Britain to a second-place equestrian finish behind Germany. Princes William and Harry and William’s wife, Kate, were in the stands to watch their cousin as she competed in the show jumping final portion of Olympic eventing.
Americans Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser rallied for a 19-21, 21-16, 15-13 victory against Spain and remain unbeaten in the preliminary round of the beach volleyball tournament. Defending world champions and top-seeded Emanuel and Alison of Brazil also won, beating Switzerland. On the women’s side, Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy needed three sets to beat the Netherlands 21-15, 21-12, 15-8.
The United States clinched first place in its group in women’s soccer with a 1-0 win over North Korea. Abby Wambach scored in the 25th minute for her 141st international goal and third of the tournament. Wambach and Co. then celebrated by coercing goaltender Hope Solo to get on the ground and do “the worm." Nearly 30,000 attended the first women’s soccer game played in 23 years at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. Host Britain also is perfect through three matches, blanking Brazil 1-0 to delight an electric crowd of 70,584 at Wembley Stadium. Kelly Smith had the only goal.
Andy Roddick spent less than an hour on the court during an emphatic loss to Novak Djokovic. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga needed a much longer run to advance against Milos Raonic. Roddick lost 6-2, 6-1 to Djokovic in 54 minutes, leaving the 29-year-old American to fend off more questions about retirement. Tsonga of France moved on by winning the longest set in Olympic history. He beat Raonic of Canada 6-3, 3-6, 25-23. The final set lasted three hours and 257 points. Andy Murray, Marcos Baghdatis and Kei Nishikori also won on the men’s side. Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams were among the winners in the women’s tournament.
Clay Stanley scored 16 points and the U.S. men’s team improved to 2-0 in preliminary pool play with a three-set victory over Germany. Matt Anderson added 15 points in the 25-23, 25-16, 25-20 win for the defending Olympic champions. The Germans were led by Georg Grozer with 12.
Ryan Bailey and Peter Varellas scored three goals apiece and the United States recovered from a slow start to beat Romania 10-8 in the men’s tournament. The U.S., which took silver four years ago in Beijing, and gold medal-favorite Serbia are tied for the Group B lead with four points apiece after two matches. Serbia beat host Britain 21-7.
Shannon Taylor scored late in the first half and the U.S. upset Argentina 1-0 in women’s field hockey. The Americans controlled long stretches of play against the No. 2-ranked team in the world.
Vincent Hancock is putting together quite the Olympic resume. The 23-year-old U.S. Army sergeant is a two-time champion in men’s skeet shooting after he successfully defended his crown with a score of 148 in London. Hancock’s win gave the U.S. a skeet sweep after Kimberly Rhode won the women’s competition earlier this week.
Carlos Suarez was upset with the scoring after he dropped a 16-6 decision to Turkey’s Ferhat Pehlivan. Five ringside judges decided the awkward Pehlivan — who probably slipped and fell to the canvas more than a dozen times during the bout — landed more scoring punches. Suarez, who is from Lima, Ohio, but is fighting for his mother’s homeland of Trinidad and Tobago, called it “a horrible decision."
Ben Ainslie is still chasing Denmark’s Jonas Hoegh-Christensen in the Finn class. Hoegh-Christensen finished first and second in a pair of races for a 10-point lead over Ainslie after six races. Britain’s Ainslie had finishes of 4-3 as the 24-boat fleet sailed in winds that reached 17 knots. Ainslie is trying to win his fourth straight gold medal and fifth games medal overall. If he wins gold, he’ll supplant Hoegh-Christensen’s countryman, Paul Elvstrom, as the greatest sailor in Olympic history.
Chen Ruolin and Wang Hao led China to its third diving gold in London, this one off the big tower in women’s 10-meter synchronized diving. China won going away with 368.40 points, and the country is nearly halfway to its goal of sweeping the eight diving events.
Alan Campbell of Britain qualified fastest for the semifinals of the men’s single sculls, providing another boost for the host nation at the Olympic regatta. Britain is favored to win three women’s events and has gold medal chances in several men’s disciplines when finals begin today.
Defending Olympic champion France moved to the top of Group A in men’s handball after a 32-20 win over Argentina.
Favorites Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia each won to set up an all-Chinese final in women’s table tennis. Defending world champion Ding, who enters today’s final as the one to beat, defeated Feng Tianwei of Singapore 4-2. Li will be a decided underdog after defeating Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan 4-1.