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They are the greatest! U.S. are best women’s gymnastics team ever

Martha Karolyi, the U.S. women’s gymnastics national team coordinator since 2000 and overseer of the American Olympic team’s transformation into a world power, is an exacting taskmaster. She talks about perfection as if she’s never heard the axiom about perfection being the enemy of good.

But Tuesday, even Karolyi, a woman with 54 years in the sport, had to admit — after the American team defended its 2012 team gold medal in a rout of Russia and third-place China on Tuesday at Rio Olympic Arena — that she could find little fault with this squad.

This five-woman group is the best women’s gymnastics team that has ever been.

“I would have to say yes,” Karolyi said, knowing that the Americans’ 8.209-point victory over second-place Russia was the largest in an Olympic women’s team final since the Soviet Union defeated Czechoslovakia by 8.997 points at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. But the USSR’s margin comes with an asterisk: Back then, six athletes’ scores were counted in each event, and the degree of difficulty can’t compare to what female gymnasts do today.

So when the American team’s gold medal was finally won Tuesday, in the most impressive way possible, the 73-year-old Karolyi — who has announced that she will retire after these Games — burst into tears when the gymnasts told her they had adopted the nickname “The Final Five,” partly as a way of honoring her.

“It’s hard to make Martha cry,” said 22-year-old Aly Raisman, the captain of the team, who has said that she can feel Karolyi’s demanding presence in the gym before seeing her.

Laurie Hernandez, the 16-year-old baby of the U.S. team, said the team’s search for something to replace “The Fierce Five” nickname of the 2012 gold-medal squad started with a text chat among all five members of the U.S. team — three-time world champion Simone Biles, Hernandez, Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Madison Kocian — after they survived the U.S. Olympic Trials last month to earn their spots in Rio.

“I think [the final pick] was Simone Biles’ idea,” Hernandez said.

Karolyi said when the team sprang it on her after their final event Tuesday, it was only the second time in her gymnastics career that she cried. The first, she said, was when Nadia Comaneci and the Romanian team that she and her husband, Bela, coached dominated the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. Five years later, Martha and Bela sought asylum in the U.S., and beginning with Mary Lou Retton, their first U.S. champion, the American program has never been the same…

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