SAN JOSE – The Americans are sending their strongest gymnastics team yet to the Rio Olympics, one that is all but assured of winning the team and all-around titles and might very well sweep all four individual events, too.
“It’s definitely possible for Team USA to come home with gold on every event,” Madison Kocian said Monday.
Raisman and Douglas are the first gymnasts since Amy Chow and Dominique Dawes in 2000 to make a second U.S. Olympic team. Douglas is the first reigning Olympic all-around gold medalist to return since Nadia Comaneci did it in 1980.
To be sure, many other gymnasts have tried for a second Olympics. Since the start of the modern Games, 14 American women have made a second U.S. team but only six of those had done so since 1980 until Raisman and Douglas added their names to the list.
On balance beam, her third rotation of the night Sunday, Raisman shined and looked nothing short of superbly confident. She let out a tiny breath before her dismount on a spectacular routine that scored a 15.250 — much stronger than her 14.8 in Friday’s opening night of the Olympic Trials. She wound up in third place with a 119.750 over the two-day, eight-rotation competition.
The unflappable Raisman secured her hard-earned spot from national team coordinator Martha Karolyi with a strong showing over the past six weeks, which included an all-around victory in last month’s Hartford tune-up meet.
“It’s just amazing because she’s so strong,” Douglas said of Raisman. “To have her just lead this team, we’ve been there, and for us to be back on this road together is just amazing and kind of different because we were on the same team and now we’re on the same team again. It’s just a special bond.”
Raisman was the oldest on the U.S. team when she won the floor at the London Olympics and captained the close-knit “Fierce Five” group that captured the team title.
At 22, they call Raisman “Grandma.” And this determined, ultra-focused grandmother gymnast will be leading the Americans into another Olympics with all the kids, even if she wasn’t so sure as she waited for the official announcement.
“We’ve all been working so hard and obviously coming back, there was a lot of days where it didn’t feel like it was coming together,” said Raisman. “But that’s why I came back about three years ago because it takes this long to get back into the kind of shape you need to be in in order to do all these routines.”
In addition to holding off younger competitors, Raisman and Douglas had the added pressure of expectation. After helping the Americans to team gold four years ago, Raisman won gold on floor and bronze on balance beam while Douglas claimed the all-around title.
“I think the first time, since I was so young, I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Douglas, who was 16 when she won in London. “I had no idea the experience behind it. I just went out there and just had fun. And this time it was just different because I knew what to expect, kind of.
“I felt the pressure a little bit more this time. But it was still fun.”
Douglas had to find ways to make new connections or build routines to her strengths when old skills wouldn’t come back.
“That’s very remarkable,” national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said. “Both of the girls showed excellent dedication, which is only possible if you have a love of the sport. Because we all know how much hard work it takes at this level and all the sacrifices you have to make.”
No team has ever won all six golds since the all-around and individual event competitions were added to the Olympics. But consider that the United States won gold on everything but vault at last year’s world championships.
Now, there’s no guarantee the Americans can pull off the sweep. There are some very good individual gymnasts throughout the world, and crazy things tend to happen in big competitions. Just look back to the London Olympics, where McKayla Maroney was considered a shoo-in for the vault gold until she fell.
And if the Americans happen to make some history in the process, all the better.