New World Order – ROC Rises

By Christy Sandmaier and Chris Korotky

A day after the athletes from Russia (ROC) won the Men’s Team competition at the 2020 Olympic Games, the Women’s Team from ROC made it an official sweep with a golden showing! They posted a team tally of 169.528 in what was one of the most dramatic team finals ever. The new Olympic team champions ended the golden streak held by the United States since London 2012. The U.S. earned silver with 166.096 and Great Britain had an impressive rally for bronze with 164.096 (jumping from sixth in qualification).

In the first rotation, Simone Biles bailed out of her Amanar, only completing a one and half, and with a huge lunge forward. After leaving the arena, Jordan Chiles put on her grips, indicating she was going to do bars, an event she was not originally listed to start and most likely had not warmed up. Everyone was left to speculate, creating a chaotic atmosphere inside the arena and around the world for the fans who were watching and waiting for greatness from The GOAT. Biles would later return to the arena, but put on a warm-up and would not compete the remainder of the event.

Upon inquiry, USA Gymnastics finally issued a statement that read: “Simone has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”

This was after NBC reported that someone indicated the issue may have been mental and not physical. Later, 2016 gold medalist Laurie Hernandez, who was a teammate of Biles in Rio, appeared on the Today Show (she’s a correspondent for NBC in Tokyo) and said: “At the end of the day, mentally, physically, we just want to make sure that she’s ok.” 

Inside Ariake Gymnastics Center, suddenly, the script was about to be rewritten. 

Under tremendous pressure they could have never prepared for, the U.S. hit three for three on bars, topped by Suni Lee’s whopping 15.4, even higher than qualification (15.2). On beam, where Jordan Chiles suddenly found herself in the anchor spot, Team USA hit again, defining superhero status. Her teammates, including Biles, jumped for joy on the sidelines with the hit set (pictured). Her role now shifted to something she never expected.

With ROC taking two falls on beam, one from Vladislava Urazova and one from Angelina Melnikova, the U.S. actually found itself in the lead momentarily, making up a huge deficit, until Viktoria Listunova went up and hit a 14.333. 

With momentum back on their side, ROC performed just beautifully on floor, the stage theirs. Urazova and Listunova put on a show leaving the finale to veteran Melnikova who poured her whole heart and soul into her routine. It was a crowning achievement for her and her team and the emotion was real once she struck her final pose. She knew and the world knew it was gold.

On floor, The U.S. just couldn’t keep up with ROC. Grace McCallum displayed beautiful artistry, but bounced out of her first pass. Chiles wowed with a full twisting double layout, but later went down on a front double full. Lee was as graceful as ever, but a little short on some landings. Gold was not to be this time. But silver is still an incredible achievement. While floor wasn’t their event, the entire day for Team USA featured gritty performances. It’s hard to even try to imagine what they were going through at that time. And to still deliver such sets throughout the adversity in competition to put themselves in a podium position is a great achievement.

As for Biles, she’s human and we wish her the best whatever the scenario. After all, this is sport, not life. In the Mixed Zone, she said, “I just… after the performance that I did, I didn’t want to go into any other events second-guessing myself. I thought it was better if I took a step back and to let these girls go out there and let them do the job. Tonight, they get a gold medal from me. They never gave up.”

As for her future competitions in Tokyo (she has qualified for All-Around and all four events) and the immense pressure she feels, “We’re going to take it a day at a time. Gymnastics isn’t everything at the end of the day, I’m just gearing up for the days ahead. With the year that it’s been, I’m not surprised it happened. This Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself… and, I came in, I feel like I was still doing it for other people. So that hurts my heart. Doing what I love has been taken away from me to please other people… We’ll regroup tonight. The girls did exactly what they needed to do. It’s all for these girls.”

On Instagram yesterday, Biles wrote of the pressure: “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard.” Her teammates rallied around her and took on new leadership roles as the dynamic on Team USA changed as the entire world watched. In the coming days, there will be much to unpack and process about tonight. But let’s remember, at the end of the day, it is sport and they competed their hearts out.

For the Russian women, the victory was undisputed and well-deserved. Nothing should take away from their stunning achievement. They seized the moment with an incredible display of artistry that was reminiscent of the golden era of the Russian program. The routines were so well composed and showcased beautiful choreography,  exquisite style and picture-perfect presentation. As with the men’s team yesterday, tears were flowing the instant they knew they had achieved their crowning moment. 2020 Olympic Champions.  

Photos by Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics

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