While the American women’s gymnastics team was stepping onto the podium to receive its first Olympic gold medal in the team event in 16 years, Canada’s gymnasts were in the back wings of North Greenwich Arena, radiating with just as much excitement.
Calling it the most remarkable week of their lives, Canada’s five young women were still giddy as they walked back to meet the press. The attention suddenly surrounding them had multiplied from just a few reporters earlier this week to a crowd on Tuesday.
Two days ago, Canada’s Kristina Vaculik, Dominique Pegg, Victoria Moors, Brittany Rogers and Ellie Black surprised the gymnastics world just by making the team final. It’s something the nation had never done at a non-boycotted Games. On Tuesday, they jockeyed their way up to a stunning fifth-place finish in the final, nestling up right underneath the world’s giants in the sport.
“There are four powerhouses in women’s gymnastics -- Romania, Russia, China and the U.S., so we never expected to touch them," said Vaculik. "We thought 7th, maybe 6th, but fifth was never something we expected.”
The U.S. finished with gold -- its first in the women’s team final since the Magnificent Seven did it in 1996 with American darlings like Kerri Strug and Dominique Moceanu. The new American Fab Five -- Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber, made Russia settle for silver and Romania bronze. They booted China, the defending gold medalist in the event, right off the podium. Canada was right there next in fifth, having passed Japan, Italy and host nation Great Britain.
“We told ourselves we are the underdogs, so we have nothing to lose,” said Vaculik, the women still glittering in their shiny red and silver sequined Maple Leaf gym suits. “We just wanted to put a little pressure on the other teams to make them watch out a bit.”
Canada got off to a strong start to the day. With colourful music selections, the Canadian women professed earlier this week to adoring the floor routine in the hot-pink Olympic venue, since it makes them the centre of this world stage as people listen up to their music and have their eyes on the centre mat.
Next up for Canada was bars, a comfortable event for the Canadians. Then, most challenging, Canada had to finish on the balance beam, the event that had troubled several Canucks in qualifying. But as it’s also the highest-scoring of the events, there was big reward to be had when the Canadians performed steadily. They didn’t let any nations pass them in the scoring on the final rotation.
The five young women had gathered to celebrate as the final scores were tallying, focused inward and soaking in their final Olympic moments together as a team, even posing for a few cameras.
“I hope that what we done inspires a lot of young Canadian gymnasts and shows them that Canada belongs here,” said Black. “We have already moved up so much, and if we add a little difficulty and have a little cleaner execution, I think we could be on our way to that world-class stage.”
Pegg still gets to compete on Thursday in the all-around final, while Rogers and Black will contend in the vault final on Sunday.