RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The phrase is “go for the gold.”
But in the women’s gymnastics team finals of the Rio de Janeiro Games on Tuesday, everyone but the Americans had another goal.
“We aimed for the silver medal,” Chinese star Shang Chunsong said.
The Americans scored 184.897 points in a dominant but hardly surprising performance to run away with the gold. They finished more than eight points ahead of silver medalist Russia, with China just behind for bronze.
China won the team gold in 2008, besting the second-place U.S. by 2.375 points. In 2012 the Chinese didn’t take home a medal after finishing fourth behind the Americans, Russia and Romania. Then Simone Biles joined the team and caused an even larger divide between the U.S. and the rest of the world.
“At this moment we can say that that the United States dominates the world of gymnastics,” national team director Martha Karolyi said. “I think that’s probably comparable to other (eras) when Russia was first dominating and then Romania took over and dominated.”
So the question becomes what other countries, particularly a world power like China, can do to catch up. The 20-year-old Shang was asked if there were any young gymnasts in China that she believes could beat Biles in the 2020 Games.
“I don’t think we can,” she said. “I think she is amazing. She is a legend. She is so strong.”
Though China knew it wouldn’t win gold, there was some disappointment in dropping to third place because of a miscue in the final rotation. The Chinese were poised for silver for most of the day before 16-year-old Mao Yi fell in her floor exercise and landed completely out of bounds, almost tumbling off the podium.
That mistake left her with a 12.633 in the event. It was by far China’s worst score of the day, and left them with the bronze. Mao fought back tears after the competition before breaking down and quietly sobbing.
“We feel it’s still a little bit of a pity for us because we were trying to get the silver medal,” Wang Yan said. “But compared with the last Olympic games in 2012 when we got the fourth position we are still happy with what we got today.”
It wasn’t only the Chinese who believed gold wasn’t an option. Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, who won the most medals of any female gymnast in London by earning the gold in the uneven bars, a team silver and bronze medals in the floor exercise and all-around, echoed the sentiment.
“We compete and we understand that the U.S. team (was) stronger than us and understood that they would win,” she said.
And if countries like China and Russia don’t believe they can catch up to the Americans, then the smaller countries know they have no shot.
Celine Van Gerner and the Netherlands team trained with the Americans in the week leading up to the Olympics and got a firsthand look at how they have built the most powerful gymnastics machine in the world.
“The United States is so big. It’s like if we put all the best countries in Europe together, we might have a (talent pool) as big as America,” Van Gerner said. “So I don’t know if the small countries can get up to them because we don’t have that much. I don’t know which country can close the gap. It’s amazing.”