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Thursday, August 2, 2012 - Page updated at 09:30 a.m.
16 years in the making, U.S. women gymnasts savor gold
By NANCY ARMOUR
AP National Writer
Jordyn Wieber woke up and immediately shoved her hand under her pillow.
Yes, it's for real. She and the rest of the newly nicknamed Fierce Five really did win the Olympic title in women's gymnastics.
"It's amazing," Wieber said Wednesday morning, touching the medal that once again was hanging around her neck. "It's so surreal and it still hasn't sunk in yet."
Hang on. It's bound to get even wilder.
Within hours of winning he gold, the first for the U.S. women in 16 years, the Americans were on the verge of rock star status. President Barack Obama called. Athletes they didn't know stopped to congratulate them as they walked through the Olympic village. They were headliners on NBC's "Today" show - ahead of a couple of Michael Phelps' buddies - and got props from Oprah and Lady Gaga.
And in perhaps the ultimate sign of popular approval, Justin Bieber Tweeted his congratulations to the squad. He even gave Wieber, who once hung a poster of the Biebs in her room at training camp, a personal shoutout.
It seemed like everyone wanted a piece of the team that is, arguably, the greatest of all time.
"This team I probably could say was the strongest team because the result was done outside the United States," said Martha Karolyi, who coached the Magnificent Seven in 1996 and is now the national team coordinator. "Mentally, this is the strongest team."
They'll have to rely on that toughness if they want to add to their medals stash. Coming down from the biggest high of their lives might be a bigger challenge than any Russian, Romanian or Chinese opponent.
Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas compete in the all-around Thursday night, and also have chances for medals in the event finals; Raisman made the final on balance beam and floor exercise, while Douglas made it on beam and uneven bars. Wieber made the floor final, and McKayla Maroney is pretty much a lock to add the Olympic gold to her world title on vault.
"Already yesterday, after all the hoopla was over, I just said, `The competition is not over. Keep some discipline and some focus,'" Karolyi said. "We've got a long way to go and we have good chances in front of us."
The Americans were targeted as favorites ever since they beat Russia by four points at last year's world championships, a massive margin in a sport where medals can come down to tenths of a point. They were featured on magazine covers and commercials. The Russians and Romanians even poked their heads in the doorway during training sessions to see what their rivals were up to.
"We're very strong as a team and we pump each other up," Douglas said. "It makes us do better and greater things."
They strutted onto the floor as if they owned the place Tuesday night and, with three monster vaults, let it be known that everyone else was playing for silver.
"It was boom, boom and a really big boom," said John Geddert, Wieber's coach and also the U.S. coach. "That just started taking the air right out of the balloon."
The Russians made up some ground on uneven bars, only to fall apart on balance beam and floor exercise. The Americans finished without a major mistake, as they did at last year's world meet.
They finished five points in front of Russia, and seven ahead of Romania, the bronze medalist.
"They have not made a mistake on the podium in the big spotlight," said Geddert, who also coached the team at worlds. "That's more than talent. That's just a phenomenal performance. Historic. If that doesn't put them as the all-time best gymnastics team ever, I don't know what does."
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