By Sahan Bidappa/Doha
The United States women’s team lived up to their billing as heavy favourites as they scooped another World Artistic Gymnastics Championships gold medal yesterday.
With Simone Biles in their ranks, victory was a sure shot for the Americans. But the manner in which it came at the Aspire Dome yesterday will concern their opponents.
While Biles was not at her phenomenal best, the US, with as many as three rookies in their team, were still miles ahead of seven other finalists.
Biles, Morgan Hurd, Riley McCusker, Grace McCallum and Kara Eaker combined for 171.629 points, winning by a whopping 8.766 margin ahead of silver medallist Russia. China had to settle for bronze, as the top three teams booked their place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The victory margin was the largest since the new scoring method replaced the perfect-10 judging system in 2006. The Americans crushed the Championships record of 6.693 set in 2014, while they also beat their own Olympic record of 8.209 from 2016 Rio Games.
Truth to tell, the victory margin was on the expected lines, after the US women topped the qualifications in the weekend by nearly nine points over Russia.
Since 2011, the US has won six straight Olympic or world titles, the longest winning streak in gymnastics since the Soviet Union domination in the 1970s.
“It’s exciting to keep the streak going, but we have to hold up upon ourselves every time we go out there,” Biles said.
“It’s exciting to be out there, especially with the group of girls we had tonight. It felt unreal. I can’t believe its World Championships and we’re competing again,” she added.
Biles said the pressure of being favourites never caught on them. “It’s (being competitive) just instilled in us. We’re used to it but we also know the expectations that we have on ourselves whenever we go out there, so I think that’s what keeps us going,” said Biles, who will now switch her attention to individual titles, starting with All-Around title tomorrow.
Biles was diagnosed with kidney stone on Friday, but the 21-year-old showed no signs of discomfort yesterday. She did struggle on two of her routines, a near-fall on Balance Beam and an out-of-bounds landing on Floor Exercise. But these mistakes made little difference on the day as she anchored the team, while her teammates played the supporting cast to perfection.
Biles had the highest scores on Vault (15.500), Uneven Bars (14.866) and Floor Exercise (14.766), but looked out of control on Balance Beam, losing half a point for placing her hand on the beam as she was about to fall after a front somersault.
“Mistakes happen. We go back into training and hopefully work on the little mistakes that we have, but overall (it was) pretty good. I get a little jittery every time I go into that skill (piked front somersault) because it’s near the end and I know what I’m capable of. I don’t know why I get so shy on that skill. It’s a forward-landing skill but in practice it’s usually do good, so I think it shakes me up and I lose a little focus, but it’s something we need to work on,” said Biles, who is now tied Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman for the US record of four Olympic/world team titles.
There are more records in store for Biles this week. She will be aiming for her fourth world all-around title tomorrow, which would take her beyond Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina for the all-time female record, while if she was to claim two more wins in the individual apparatus Biles will overtake Vitaly Scherbo’s mark of 12 for the most golds in Worlds history.
Meanwhile, Russia held off China to take the silver medal, as they ended up five tenths apart. It was much closer than anticipated as China were in danger of losing out on a medal. The Chinese team were in the seventh position going into the fourth and final rotation but covered up the deficit with some impressive show in Vault.
The Russian team had its own problems after Lilia Akhaimova stumbled on Vault. But the seven-time Olympic medallist and 2010 world all-around champion Aliya Mustafina remained the backbone of the Russian team. Mustafina, who is making a comeback after 16 months since she gave birth to a girl, wowed the crowd in in the Uneven Bars, where she scored 14.500.
“We were taught to always focus not on the mistakes, but on the things we’ve done well,” said Mustafina. “We were aiming to qualify for the (2020 Tokyo) Olympic Games. We had a target and we met.”
Chinese gymnast Liu Jinru was disappointed with her team missing out on silver. “It’s a shame. We were so close to second and we could have done better,” she said.
Today, the men’s all-around final will be held, with 24 gymnasts vying for the top honours. Defending champion Xiao Ruoteng of China is the favourite to retain the gold, but will have to perform much better than he did in the team finals, where he stumbled on two rotations.
Russia’s Nikita Nagornyy will be his main challenger, with United States’ Sam Mikulak also one of the contenders.
Women’s team standings
1. US 171.629 points
2. Russia 162.863
3. China 162.396
4. Canada 161.644
5. France 161.294
6. Japan 160.262
7. Brazil 159.830
8. Germany 159.428
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