‘Fierce Five’ soar their way into Olympic history

For 16 years, the Magnificent Seven defined the U.S. women’s

Olympic gymnastics program, setting the standard by which every

American team is judged.

There is gold. And there is everything else.

Now – finally – there is the team known as the ”Fierce


Jordyn Wieber. Gabby Douglas. McKayla Maroney. Aly Raisman. Kyla


Teenagers. Champions. And maybe – just maybe – the greatest team

of all time.

”Others might disagree, the ’96 team might disagree,” coach

John Geddert said. ”But this is the best team. Difficulty-wise,

consistency-wise, this is USA’s finest.”

It’s certainly the world’s fiercest.

Intimidating the rest of the eight-team field with an

eye-popping vault set in which the Americans soared so high they

may have been picked up on radar at Heathrow Airport, the U.S.

stormed to an emphatic victory that put them atop the podium for

the first time since Kerri Strug and company hobbled to gold in


Strug became a pixie-cut icon after her gusty one-legged vault

sealing the country’s first gold. The image of her being carried

onto the medal stand by coach Bela Karolyi is a fixture in Olympic


No drama this time. Just dominance. A good old-fashioned

whipping by a program determined to return to the top. The U.S.

posted a score 183.596, more than five points ahead of Russia and

seven clear of Romania.

”They’re just so far ahead of anyone else,” said Britain’s

Rebecca Tunney. ”They definitely deserve it.”

They certainly earned it.

The Americans have spent the last nine months competing with a

target on their back after running away with the title at last

year’s world championships.

It happened, however, on the other side of the planet. In a

non-Olympic year no less. Russia was hobbled. The Romanians were a

mess. And the Americans was still largely anonymous.

Not anymore. Not by a longshot.

Led by a rejuvenated Wieber, who shook off her disappointing

performance in qualifying to compete with the tenacity that’s

become her trademark, the U.S. led after the first rotation and

never trailed.

There were no major miscues in any of their 12 routines. Wieber,

who missed out on the chance to contend for the individual

all-around title after finishing as the third-best American, used a

gentle pep talk from good friend Maroney and a challenge from

Geddert to return to her world championship form.

”I had to put it together mentally, especially for this team,”

Wieber said. ”A team gold medal was also officially a goal of


The U.S. has spent the last 16 years trying to find the right

combination of talent and experience to climb back to the top. Team

coordinator Martha Karolyi overhauled the program, attempting to

create a sense of togetherness and chemistry after the U.S. slumped

to a lackluster bronze in Sydney in 2000.

The current crop meets together for training once a month. They

Skype and text and chat whenever they get the chance.

And in front of the world with all the pressure on their tiny –

but well-muscled – shoulders, they left no doubt.

When the Americans ripped through three beam routines and took a

1.2-point cushion into the final rotation – the floor, perhaps

their second-best event – even Karolyi could feel the gold being

draped over their shoulders.

”At that moment, I already could envision that we have the

medal in our hands,” Karolyi said.

A stunning collapse by the Russians meant the U.S. needed only

to stay upright to claim the title. They did it with style. Wieber,

Douglas and Raisman were flawless, and Raisman burst into tears

midway through her routine knowing years of sacrifice, hard work

and determination were finally within reach.

”We knew we could do it,” she said, ”we just had to pull out

all the stops.”

They did, leading to a final destination years in the making.

They shook hands with their competitors then could barely contain

themselves as the national anthem played.

It’s a moment they’d envisioned their entire lives. The reality

proved to be even better.

”It was the best feeling to be up there and watch that flag go

up,” Maroney said. ”I’ve pictured it. And it was pretty close to

what I pictured. It was just the best feeling.”

And it probably won’t be the last time Maroney will experience

it. Some of her teammates either.

The world champion on vault is heavily favored to add an Olympic

gold to her trophy case. Her Amanar – the tricky, high-difficulty

skill that can only be done by a handful of gymnasts in the world –

is so exquisite Karolyi believes it should have received a perfect


”It. Was. The. Best. Vault. Ever,” she said.

Maybe, but Maroney will get another opportunity in the event


For all their collective brilliance, the Magnificent Seven won

just three individual medals. Maroney’s gold is almost assured.

Douglas and Raisman could hit the podium during Thursday’s

all-around competition. Wieber could add another on floor.

By the end of next week the ”Fierce Five” could set a new

benchmark and become the team all others are compared to.

History, however, can wait. The Americans have spent the better

part of a year proving they’re legit. That they could turn the

silvers earned by their predecessors in Athens and Beijing into


The proof laid on their chests Tuesday night.