RIO DE JANEIRO • The United States women's gymnastics team stood in a cluster and looked up at the scoreboard overhead. When the numbers flashed on the screen, the title that had all but been conceded to them before the competition even started was official. They were champions again.
The Americans, headlined by the 19-year-old talent from suburban Houston who threatens to become the face of these Games, reasserted their place at the head of the sport's new world order by retaining their gold medal with a sterling performance at the Rio Olympic Arena.
Simone Biles finished with the highest individual scores in the vault, the balance beam and the floor exercise to spirit the US team to a record-breaking win.
She had entered these Olympics already widely hailed as the most talented gymnast ever, since becoming the first woman to capture three straight world all-around championships.
Now she has proven her mettle on the sport's grandest stage and the lone piece of silverware missing from her trophy case - an Olympic gold medal - is hers.
By the end of the individual event finals next week, she could have become the first woman to win five of them in one Games.
"It felt kind of normal," the freakishly composed Biles said afterwards in the mixed zone.
"It didn't even feel like the Olympics because we were just so ready."
Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian produced a series of stirring, mistake-free performances to deliver on the stratospheric expectations that have become the new normal in America.
Once on the outside of the sport's Eastern European hegemony, the US is now the lone country to have made the podium at the last seven Olympics - and they have never been better than in Tuesday's coronation.
Four years ago in London, the US won by 5.066 points, the biggest margin in 52 years, capturing their first team gold since the Magnificent Seven's famous victory in 1996. This time it was even wider.
The US team, who finished with the top marks in all four disciplines, scored 184.897 to win by an eye-popping 8.209 points. Russia finished with 176.688 for silver, pipping China (176.003).
The Americans, clad in sequined red, white and blue leotards that shimmered from the back of the nearly full 13,280-seat arena, began with a statement on the vault.
First up was Hernandez - competing in her first major international competition - who landed a solid double twisting Yurchenko. Next was Raisman, the captain and oldest team member at 22, who stuck a perfect Amanar.
Then came Biles, who soared to preposterous heights on an Amanar to earn an even higher mark of 15.933 despite a small hop at the end - a testament to the boundary-pushing, score-boosting difficulty scores that are propelling a sport forward, ready or not.
Next came the uneven bars, the lone apparatus where Biles has shown glimpses of mortality, where she stuck a perfect dismount for a 14.800. She was followed by Douglas and Kocian - bars specialists both - who delivered on their only routines of the afternoon. Kocian's score of 15.933 was a career best.
Biles wobbled slightly on the balance beam but held solid, allowing the US to confidently stride into the final rotation with almost a five-point lead over China.
As in London, the US' final event was the floor exercise. First went Hernandez, who delivered a sassy, joyful routine that had the audience clapping to the beat, giving a thumbs up as she left the floor. Raisman's power tumbling and firm landings kept the momentum going and further electrified the crowd.
And taking to the floor last, Biles turned on an acrobatic display of tumbling to Brazilian samba music to seal a victory which was never in doubt.
"We all are in a very good spot because every time we got put up we hit our sets," she said. "But anything can happen. We just have to keep going in and train. We train so hard for this."
For the greatest team in US gymnastics history, it has only just begun.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE