Enter the American era. On Tuesday night, in front of a crowd swathed in stars and stripes, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team flipped and soared to glory, winning their first gold medal since 1996.
The Chinese, the Beijing 2008 champions, self-destructed. Despite a strong opening, the Chinese bumbled, bobbled and slipped to a fourth-place finish on Tuesday night, an evening that was owned by the dominant American team. The U.S. squad, which had placed first in the qualification round, stunned with a stellar gold-medal performance—the kind of error-free juggernaut that, in times past, was the preserve of the Chinese.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Chinese squad that won gold in Beijing and the London
team is that the current crew is significantly older. The youngest
athlete on the Chinese team, Yao Jinnan, is 17. Three others are 20
years old, while one is either 18 or 20. (More on that later.) For a
country that often begins training its gymnasts at age three, why were
the Chinese fielding what in gymnastics terms felt like a team of