By Pritha Sarkar
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Russia's rhythmic gymnasts shut out the rest of the world for a fifth successive Olympics on Sunday, with a free-flowing acrobatic display with hoops and clubs winning them another group all-around gold medal.
Spain had high hopes of snapping Russia's reign as they were leading at the halfway point of the competition following an exquisite display with five ribbons, with the champions trailing in third behind Bulgaria.
With 30 meters of multi-colored ribbons on show in the opening routines, the main challenge for the gymnasts was to avoid getting tangled as they showed off their synchronized choreography and acrobatic skills during the two minute 30 second displays.
The competition came alive when world champions Russia returned with two hoops and six clubs. Rolling the hoop along the contours of their bodies, diving through it, and using their feet to catapult it to fellow gymnasts were popular moves.
They drew rapturous applause as they each arched one leg back to perform a synchronized fast-paced Biellmann spin.
Russia's dynamic performance with their second routine allowed them to leapfrog the early pacesetters, and they topped the standings with 36.233.
"We were concerned after the first rotation when everything did not go smoothly," said Russia's Anastasiia Tatareva.
"There was a collision and one of the ribbons ended up on the floor. That hiccup forced us to pull ourselves together and do our best to beat our rivals."
For the fifth successive Olympics, Russia completed the rhythmic gymnastics double after Margarita Mamun won the individual all-around gold on Saturday.
Spain, who won the gold in 1996 when the sport made its Olympic debut but then failed to get on the podium at the next four Olympics, claimed silver with 35.766.
"For us this silver medal feels like gold," said Spain's Alejandra Quereda. "The Russians are very strong ... but we are catching up."
Bulgaria, world champions in 2014, grabbed the bronze.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Jan Harvey)