RIO DE JANEIRO — Their Chinese and Russian rivals will be on the floor with them in Tuesday's team final but they won't be the real competition for the Olympic gold medal.
"I always tell the girls that we are competing against ourselves," women's national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Sunday evening after her American gymnasts had destroyed the field in the qualifying round, soaring past overmatched China by an astounding 10 points (185.238-175.279). "We don't want to beat this or that. We want to come as close as possible to perfection.
The qualifying battle was strictly intramural, primarily to determine which two Americans would advance to Thursday's all-around, which they're expected to win for a record fourth consecutive time. When the chalk settled it was Simone Biles, the three-time world champion, and captain Aly Raisman, who missed bronze four years ago in a tiebreaker.
"It's very exciting," said the 22-year-old Needham, Mass., native, who reckoned that she had the best outing of her career, most notably on vault and uneven bars, her weakest event. "Obviously I'm trying not to think about it. Right now my focus is on the team final, and after that I can prepare."
Odd woman out was Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, who was third by less than a half-point with the difference being the Amanar vault that Raisman did but she did not. "I have no regrets," said Douglas, who was happy just to be named to the five-woman squad after finishing seventh at the trials. "I wasn't really trying to prove anyone wrong. I just wanted to go out there and use the time that I was given."
Had it not been for the two-per-country limit, all three women easily would have advanced. "I hate the two-per-country rule," said Raisman. "I think all five of us could make the all-around finals. I wish that they would change it, but I don't think they ever will. You've got to respect their decision, but it is heartbreaking."
So deep are the Americans that Laurie Hernandez, who finished second at the trials, was bypassed as an all-around contender by Karolyi.
"Team USA has been so successful over the years and it's because of all the smart choices that they make," Hernandez observed.
The consolation was that each of the US performers qualified for at least one of the four event finals that come with individual medals. Biles will compete in floor exercise, balance beam, and vault. Raisman will get a chance to defend her floor title, while Douglas and Madison Kocian made it on bars and Hernandez on beam.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.