This week, the U.S. women won a team gold in gymnastics, handily outscoring Russia's 178.530 score with 183.596 points. It’s a feat that the American women's team has accomplished only one other time, in 1996, during the Atlanta Games. The American team that year was nicknamed the “Magnificent Seven” by the media, and it included injured Kerri Strug, who gave the Olympics one of its most memorable moments before or since, when she landed her vault on one leg after injuring her ankle in a previous attempt.
The "Magnificent Seven" also included America’s most decorated gymnast, Shannon Miller, and, of course, the two Dominiques, one of whom shares her insights about this year's team: Dominique Moceanu, who was the youngest member of the “Magnificent Seven,” and who is following this year’s team, dubbed the "Fab Five", closely.
"It's their mental strength," the 1996 gold medalist says of her 2012 successors. "We saw Russia mentally broke down. They could not handle the pressure."
"The physicality of our team is so strong, and that is what sets them apart from the rest of the world. They are so conditioned and so well prepared that they are able to withstand all these days of competition on a mental level, but also on a physical level," Moceanu says.
From a more technical standpoint, what put the Americans over the top was their performance on the vault. Each American performs the Amanar, a high-flying vault that is worth 6.5 points of difficulty, .7 more than most other gymnasts' routines. One by one, Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, and McKayla Maroney stepped up to the runway, took off, and turned in quality vaults at exactly the right time.
"It was so great for our team to realize that they had the strength from the get-go, and they didn't let up that pressure," Moceanu says. That strength was what enabled them to succeed where the past women's teams did not. Although the 2008 team was loaded with stars like Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, both of whom captured their own gold medals in individual events, the team award eluded them.
"I think what was missing was that our girls peaked around the Olympic trials," Moceanu says. "By the time the Olympics came around, the girls were too banged up and too beat up, and they were struggling because they were exhausted mentally by the time the Olympics came." Martha Karolyi, the national coordinator, overloaded the athletes with routines in the time leading up to the Olympics. This year, the individual coaches conviced Karolyi to dial down practices. It all paid off.
"I knew right from the get-go, if they had that strong lead on the vault, if they could hang on through the entire competition because it would be neck and neck with Russia afterwards, but if they could have enough lead to where that would give them that boost of confidence they needed to maintain that lead throughout the competition, I knew nobody could take it away," Moceanu says.