I wrote this up as I watched the main feed of the live stream so I don't get any further behind on my Olympics coverage. I've given up on covering men's gymnastics at all, and I'm going to save sports other than gymnastics (such as my weird judo obsession) for post-event wrap-ups. I'm in the process of watching every single performance from Women's Team Finals, so expect a long, out of order post on that soon.
For now, though, it's the first rotation, and we're vaulting! Three Amanars in a row, all of them fabulous. Rebeca Andrade was so perfect in the air, she looked like she'd been hanging out with the Americans, and she controlled a wobbly landing with a little hop to the left. Aly Raisman's landing was her best of the Olympics, with only a tiny step to the right. Simone Biles's was actually her worst Amanar so far, with some toe crossing and a huge step forward at the end, but she still got more amplitude than should be physically possible. Wang Yan's Tsukahara looked tiny in comparison, especially since she stepped out of bounds. Aliya Mustafina, on the other hand, threw the prettiest vault of the first rotation, a graceful and nearly stuck DTY that was almost a convincing argument for doing an easier vault ridiculously well. Seda Tutkhalian's DTY was fine, too, although after Mustafina's, it was all too easy to nitpick her form in the air.
The feed stopped showing random shots of athletes milling around the pit just in time for Shang Chunsong's life-changing balance beam routine, which included a walkover to sheep jump that made Courtney Kupets Carter lose all her chill. Shang's only moment of weakness was a little hop on her landing, but since her dismount was a triple full, it's hard to complain.
From there, attention shifted to Asuka Teramoto, whose confidence was clearly riding high after Team Japan's surprise fourth-place finish on Tuesday. She seemed to be taking bigger risks on her releases: not different content than before, just making them bigger and more powerful. Elisabeth Seitz blew her out of the water, though, bars-wise. She's only 5'3" but looks about six feet tall while she swings, reaching into perfect handstands every time. Seitz's score was lower than in quals or Team Finals, but I was so solidly in "she did a pretty" mode that I have no idea where those two tenths went. Nonetheless, she slotted fourth after the first rotation, losing only to the trio of Amanars.
On to the second rotation. Ellie Downie's DTY was almost as beautiful in the air as Mustafina's and even more solidly stuck. Somehow, her score was lower.
Aly on bars was Aly on bars. No giant mistakes, just some low handstands and late swings. Biles, on the other hand, did her best to channel Ashton Locklear, making the most of her body extensions and launching so high into her dismount that she'd finished rotating before she'd passed the high bar on the way down. My only fashion comment in this blog post: Simone's silver eyeliner is stunning.
Mustafina got flaily and off her timing on bars once or twice, but just-okay Mustafina on bars is like a just-okay bowl of pho: satisfying and full of cool little things you don't expect. 15.666, the bars score of the Beast. Once again, Tutkhalian looked lackluster in comparison, or maybe more admirable, because a less resourceful gymnast would have fallen off the bars on at least two of those releases.
Andrade's bars routine was start-to-finish terrifying, and yet somehow, she hit it, other than a giant to save a missed connection. She was very serious about earning redemption for Team Brazil.
On floor, Shang Chunsong stuck her triple full to punch front and showed a ton of personality to boot. A janky wolf turn at the end broke the spell, but the judges forgave her with a huge and well-deserved 14.600. We got to see Lieke Wevers' floor routine, because the international feed has good taste. Her gym!twizzles were a little short but fun to watch. She did a couple of pirouettes while taking her bows because she hadn't already spun around enough.
For now, Biles was three hundredths of a point behind Mustafina, and the commentators were pretending there was some suspense here.
Rotation 3! Simone on beam! We should expand our definition of artistry to include "I will destroy you" as a theme, because Biles had full-on warrior face throughout, in the best way. She made her 2.5 wolf turn look graceful, and her tuck to wolf jump was almost more exciting than her dismount. Mustafina did her best to destroy right back, but she seemed to get too into her head. At first, it was just a couple of balance checks, but she freaked out toward the end and missed her aerial sequence entirely. It was the first big miss among the top contenders, and it broke my heart.
Speaking of warrior women, Ellie Black was solid on beam and terrific on floor, earning not only personal redemption but some justice for the Dominion of Canada. Her form was far from perfect, but all the important skills were right there, with both power and confidence.
The Russian beam implosion intensified with Seda Tukhtalian. At first, it looked like she'd recovered mentally from an awkward but admirable save at the end of her acrobatic series, but she overrotated her dismount and went flying back onto her butt. Afterward, she looked like she couldn't decide whether to punch Mustafina or cry. The beam gremlins attacked Rebeca Andrade, too: she had to make a couple of dramatic saves and had a weird balk on a leap. She stayed on the beam, though, and she found her groove at the end, finishing with a bunch of clean connections and a solid dismount.
Aly Raisman murdered the beam gremlins with the force of her steely gaze. Her standing front tuck covered most of the length of the beam. Other than a hop on the dismount, she was damn near perfect. Wow, and all the more wow because the three athletes before her had such trouble. I thought she would break 15 points, and so did the commentary team, but it was only a 14.866. What? Whatever.
Shang Chunsong only has a Yurchenko full on vault. Between that and her emerging sass on floor, I wish China would let its gymnasts go to the USA for college.
Final rotation! Boy, is Wang Yan an engaging performer on floor. Nice triple full to punch front, and she stuck her double pike at the end. They chacked her hit balance beam routine, which is a shame, because she did a terrific job of making up for her bars disaster. Proving that China does have some chops on bars, Shang Chunsong was fantastic there. I don't think she put a hand wrong.
Mustafina was cool and graceful on floor, but not quite perfect enough. She took big steps backward out of her tumbling, and she kept hopping out of her turns. Far from a disappointment, though, because it was practically ballet. Tutkhalian, on the other hand, butt-planted out of bounds on her second tumbling pass, pitched forward on her final pass, and made me cry a little.
The commentators were trying to convince us that Giulia Steingruber and Ellie Black were in this, which was cute. Steingruber showed great extension and swing on bars, but lots of form issues, too. She cowboyed badly on her dismount, like she was so nervous at the prospect of medaling that she couldn't keep her legs under control.
I got really excited for Ellie Downie's balance beam, and then she landed her dismount on her hands and knees. The beam gremlins had struck again.
Rebeca Andrade's floor routine might have been the most joyful 90 seconds of the afternoon. Unlike her competitors, who mostly looked like they were about to snap from the pressure, Andrade seemed to forget about the standings entirely and take pleasure in the moment. That relaxation showed not only in her smile as she danced, but in the highest, cleanest tumbling that she's performed all week. She was magic, and she did her country proud.
Aly Raisman won her silver medal on floor, doing more than she needed to prove she was second only to Simone. Her double Arabian was so high, I needed the commentators to confirm it wasn't a triple. Her power is so controlled. Raisman's success seemed to fuel Biles, who poured way more into her floor routine than she needed to win. She was perfect because she wanted to be, and that made analysis pointless. The judges agreed, handing her a 15.933. Watching a Simone Biles floor routine is like watching a great performance of Shakespeare: you know how it's going to end, you know there's nothing better in the world, and it's emotional anyway, because it's always a surprise how good it is.
Mustafina hung onto bronze, and the rest of the top five were a happy surprise: Shang in fourth and Ellie Black in fifth. Three North Americans in the top five - is this ice dance? Maybe the beam gremlins had a plan all along, and the plan was to remind us that, even if the podium is exactly what we expected, there are a million ways to get there.