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U.S. Women Considered A Lock For The Team Gold Medal In Rio


The United States women's gymnastics team did not just finish in first place in Olympic qualifiers yesterday. They crushed everyone else. China was in a distant - very distant - second place - a lot of high expectations for the Americans heading into the team final on Tuesday. The brightest U.S. star is a 4-foot-8-inch dynamo competing in her first Olympics. NPR's Melissa Block is in Rio.



MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Simone Biles came into the Olympics with great expectations riding on her tiny, powerful frame. And she didn't disappoint. The 19-year-old Biles mesmerized the crowd with her electric floor exercise routine - a dizzying display of acrobatics, swagger and joy. It includes a signature move so difficult it bears her name - The Biles. To say it's a double layout with a half twist and a blind landing doesn't begin to do it justice.

And on it went with Biles notching the top scores on floor, vault and balance beam as her teammates egged her on. Biles' spectacular dismount from the beam marked the qualifiers' end. And the five teammates jumped into a group hug with an ecstatic cheer.



BLOCK: The rule is that only two women per country can advance to the individual all-around competition on Thursday. For the U.S., the top-scoring Biles will be one. The other will be 22-year-old team captain Aly Raisman who won three medals at the 2012 Olympics in London. But because of the two-per-country rule, that means that Gabby Douglas, who took gold in the all-around four years ago, was edged out, even though gymnasts from other countries with lower scores will get to compete. Douglas was matter-of-fact about it after the qualifiers.

GABBY DOUGLAS: It is what it is. I'm rejoicing right now. This has been an amazing experience so far. Would've loved to go back and defend my title, but you know what? It's been an amazing ride.

BLOCK: Douglas will still compete on the uneven bars and in the team event with Biles, Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian. The U.S. team is considered a lock for the gold medal. And Simone Biles - she could win five golds. Coach Aimee Boorman said Biles was so giddy when she finished her final event that she squealed after her balance beam dismount. And Biles admitted she did.

SIMONE BILES: Yes I did. (Laughter) I mean it kind of just happens. But I knew that we all just such good beam sets, I was so proud of myself and the team. And it's just really exciting that you finish qualifications as well as we did. And everyone qualified into an event final. So I think that's really special.

BLOCK: As Biles was talking, the national team coordinator Marta Karolyi interrupted, saying the interviews had gone on too long.

MARTA KAROLYI: We really don't...


KAROLYI: ...Have 10 minutes.


KAROLYI: We have to work hard tomorrow to rehearse. Really, we cannot...

BLOCK: And she ushered her team away. Tomorrow's practice loomed. And the tiny stars needed their rest. Melissa Block, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.

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