By Joshua Schneyer
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - In the end it was not even close. The U.S. women's gymnastics team, anchored by all around world champion Simone Biles, won the team gold medal at the Olympics on Tuesday by the widest margin ever.
So commanding and consistent were the U.S. performances that members of the silver and bronze medal teams said they were essentially competing for the second place.
“We were trying for silver. That’s what we were aiming for,” said China's Shang Chunsong, who won the bronze.
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Asked about Biles in particular, Shang could only marvel: "I think she's amazing, and she's like a legend. She's so strong."
Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina, who won the gold medal on the uneven bars at the 2012 London Games, said her team also entered the competition knowing they probably could not beat the Americans.
"We competed with the understanding that the U.S. team were stronger than us. So we understand – they won,” Mustafina said.
After Biles finished her power-packed floor exercise, the scoreboard showed that the United States had amassed 184.897 points, an eight-point gap over silver medal-winning team Russia, and the largest margin in the history of the event.
As a team, the United States scored higher than any other team on each of the four apparatuses: floor, uneven bars, vault and balance beam.
Biles and two other U.S. gymnasts, Aly Raisman and London all-around gold medal winner Gabby Douglas, had finished with the three highest all around scores in the qualifying event on Sunday.
Douglas, however, will not compete in the all around final in Rio, since the rules state that each country is only allowed to enter its top two qualifiers.
Not since the golden era of the Soviet Union, which won eight successive women's team golds between 1952 and 1980, has one team been so superior.
Raisman, who also won two golds four years ago, said there was nothing unusual about the performances the team turned in.
"I know we make it look easy, but we work very hard in the gym,” Raisman told reporters.
Marta Karolyi, who helped turn her native Romania into a gymnastics powerhouse in the 70s with her husband Bela long before becoming head coach of the American team, said the quality of the U.S. program, and its dynasty, stacks up against those dominant Eastern European programs of the past.
"I think at this moment we can say that United States dominates the world of gymnastics," said Karolyi, who plans to retire after coaching at her 11th Olympic Games in Rio.
"I think that it is probably comparable with the era when Russia was dominating and when Romania took over and was dominating."
The big question now is whether the members of Team USA, including Biles who is competing at her first Games, will be able to replicate their dazzling performances throughout the individual events, which begin on Sunday.
"I think the hardest part is getting sleep," Biles told reporters. "We're just so excited."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)