One by one, the Americans thundered down the runway, soared high above the vault and slammed into the mat.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
When the fireworks were over, so was everybody else's chance for the gold medal.
The Americans lived up to their considerable hype and then some Tuesday night, routing silver medalist Russia and everybody else on their way to their first Olympic title in women's gymnastics since 1996. Their score of 183.596 was a whopping five points better than Russia's, and set off a debate over whether this is the best U.S. team of all time. Romania won the bronze.
"Others might disagree. The '96 team might disagree. But this is the best team," U.S. coach John Geddert said.
The Americans — Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross — didn't botch a routine, and all but three of their 12 scores were 15.0 or higher.
The Russians, on the other hand, had just one score above 15 in their last two events as they unraveled down the stretch. They sat on the sidelines sniffling and watching glumly as the Americans turned their final event, floor exercise, into a coronation.
When the final standings flashed, chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rocked the arena, and the U.S. women, who backed up to get a better view of the scoreboard, held up their index fingers for the cameras — in case anyone had a doubt.
"The feeling was incredible," Wieber said. "To have this gold medal around your neck, it's really an indescribable feeling."
The Americans went into the previous two Olympics as world champions, only to leave without the gold. But national team coordinator Martha Karolyi recognized six months ago that this was a special group, stronger than previous U.S. teams.
It's not just the titles these Americans have won, though there are plenty: last year's team gold at the world championships, along with Wieber's all-around crown and Maroney's title on vault. It's their fierce competitiveness, and the unshakable faith they have in themselves. Rather than flinching under the weight of the heavy expectations, it made them stronger. When they noticed the Russians and Romanians peeking in on their training sessions, they cranked up the oomph in their routines, the better to intimidate.
Even Wieber's failure to qualify for the all-around final, which left her teammates stunned following Sunday's sessions, turned out to be a minor speed bump.
"I told them just believe in yourself," Maroney said. "Live up to that Olympic moment, because you're never, ever going to forget it."
Unforgettable, like their performance.
Now they need a catchy nickname, something like "The Magnificent Seven" from 1996.
"I like Fierce Five," Maroney said. "Because we are definitely the fiercest team out there."
And they've got gold to prove it.