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U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team Dominates Olympic Competition

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In the world of women's team gymnastics, there are two kinds of teams - the team from the United States and teams from every other country in the world. Last night, on the grandest of all stages, the Olympics, the U.S. dominated in a way that had not been done in more than half a century. The team, led by superstar Simone Biles, repeated its gold-medal performance from four years ago. NPR's Russell Lewis reports from Rio.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: There was this buzz inside Rio's Olympic arena more than an hour before the women's team gymnastics finals started. And it just began to build. It got louder and louder. And when the U.S. began the first of its four rotations with the vault, the crowd erupted when American Laurie Hernandez launched into the air - a double-twisting Yurchenko.

(APPLAUSE)

LEWIS: United States never looked back. If there was any suspense, it was how much the U.S. was going to win by and which of the seven other countries would get silver. The U.S. tallied the highest score in each of the four disciplines, vault, uneven bars, balance beam and the floor exercise.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: On floor exercise, representing United States of America, Simone Biles.

(APPLAUSE)

LEWIS: Fittingly, the last performance of the night was by Simone Biles on the floor. She dazzled.

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LEWIS: As Biles performed, her competitors from Brazil and Germany actually stood up and clapped. Afterwards, Great Britain gymnast Ruby Harrold couldn't describe what she had seen from the reigning three-time world champion.

RUBY HARROLD: Absolutely incredible. She's a - yeah. I have no words. She's just incredible. She's - yeah.

LEWIS: Harrold wasn't just awestruck by Biles. It was the whole U.S. team, including Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez. Russia would win silver and China the bronze. The margin of victory, more than 8 points, was the biggest in Olympic women's team finals since 1960. Three-time gold medalist Gabby Douglas says she and her teammates felt no pressure.

GABBY DOUGLAS: We all like to just go out there and enjoy what we do and love what we do and really just shine bright and believe in our abilities.

LEWIS: The U.S. hasn't lost a major international competition since 2010. And it's in large part because of one person, Marta Karolyi, the matriarch of the U.S. gymnastics program.

MARTA KAROLYI: If you believe you can do it, then you can do this kind of performance. If you have doubts in your mind, it never would happen.

LEWIS: This is the fifth and final Olympics for Karoyli. After this, she's retiring. That milestone is in part why the U.S. squad nicknamed the team the final five to honor Karolyi. Biles says they told her just after their gold-medal performance.

SIMONE BILES: Even if you're so close to perfection, she still tells you you could be better. And I think that's what we all need to hear just so that we keep pushing and pushing and we don't stop. And it's just an amazing feeling.

LEWIS: In a night of few surprises, there was something that caught Simone Biles off guard. It was the weight of the gold medal she got during the awards ceremony.

BILES: I was so surprised how heavy it was. Now that I've been wearing it for a while, it seems normal. But whenever he put it around my neck, I was like, oh. I was like, wow, it's so heavy.

LEWIS: Biles might have to get used to that. She has a chance to get four more gold medals this Olympics, starting with the individual all-around competition on Thursday, an event she's favored to win, of course. Russell Lewis, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.