(CBS)—The team had considered several possibilities for nicknames, knowing they had to come up with one of their own or one would be chosen for them. GLAMSquad was discarded, along with Flawless Five and Fiercest Five and almost any other adjective that begins with an F.
Then Simone Biles suggested Final Five. They were, after all, the last in Karolyi’s long list of spectacular teams.
“The Final Five,” Karolyi said, choking up just trying to say the words. “It’s crushing.”
Fitting, given the way the Americans have crushed the rest of the world these last five years.
They have won every world or Olympic title since 2011 and this was, by far, their largest margin of victory. They finished more than eight points ahead of Russia, the kind of rout that just doesn’t happen in a sport decided by tenths and hundredths. They were so far in front they could have fallen three or four times and still won.
Not that they would have. Karolyi has made perfection the standard in her 15 years as the national team coordinator, and that’s exactly what the Americans gave her.
“We’re confident because of the hard work,” captain Aly Raisman said. “We’re consistent because of the hard work.”
While other teams bobbled and wobbled, stumbled and bumbled, the U.S. women were a model of both precision and excellence. Raisman and Biles kicked it off on vault, soaring so high above the table the people in the first few rows had to crane their necks to watch them.
Gabby Douglas could have been a hummingbird for as easily as she floated from one bar to the other on uneven bars while Madison Kocian made what is one of the most difficult routines being done look as easy as playing on the monkey bars.
And Laurie Hernandez, the youngster of the group, looked like a steely veteran. She brought the house down with her electric floor routine, flashing a dazzling smile as the crowd clapped along to her music.
When it was all said and done, the Americans had the highest team score on all four events. Five of their 12 scores were 15.766 or higher compared with one – count it, one – by the entire rest of the field.
But not until their final three routines, with The Star-Spangled Banner already cued up for the medals ceremony, did the Americans let loose.
“We still would have won with a couple of falls,” Raisman said. “But it’s better when you don’t and you have that magical moment of going 12 for 12.”
Raisman traded high-fives with Biles and her coach, Aimee Boorman, as she trotted off the floor and was quickly swallowed up by Douglas and Hernandez. Kocian soon joined them, and the four could be heard yelling and cheering throughout Biles’ routine.
As the last strains of her music faded, the other four rushed forward and the five huddled together as cheers of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” rang out.
Unlike four years ago, when the Americans clutched hands as they anxiously watched the scoreboard, there was no doubt about the final outcome. This gold had been decided long ago, and all that was left was coming up with the appropriate celebration.
And to tell Karolyi about their tribute to her.
“Without her,” Raisman said, “this wouldn’t be possible.”
The Americans were a team in turmoil when Karolyi took over as national team coordinator in 2001, with personal coaches squabbling, no uniform system and the U.S. teams that in name only. But Karolyi set expectations for all the gymnasts and monitored their progress at monthly training camps that developed team chemistry and also broke down barriers between the coaches.
Within a year, the Americans were winning medals in bunches and they haven’t stopped since. But for as much success as the U.S. has had under Karolyi – 88 medals so far under her watch – this team is in a class by itself.
It has the potential to sweep the golds, something no country has done since individual events were added to the Olympic competition in 1952. Biles alone could win a record five, including what would be the fourth all-around title in a row for the Americans.
“Fantastic closing,” Karolyi said when asked what her husband, Bela, had said to her after the meet. “I feel the same way.”
As far as going-away presents go, it doesn’t get much better.