RIO DE JANEIRO -- Team first. That has been the marching orders for the U.S. women's gymnastics team since its five members were selected in July. Focus on the team competition, and the rest -- the all-around medals, the inevitable superlatives and the individual medals -- will be icing.
Tuesday night, the cake finished baking. The Americans -- who dubbed themselves the Final Five in honor of U.S. team coordinator Martha Karolyi's final season -- defended their 2012 gold medal, winning by more than eight points over the Russians. U.S. team captain Aly Raisman and 2012 all-around champ Gabby Douglas became the first American women to win two team gold medals in gymnastics.
It's time to slather on the icing.
During qualification on Sunday, every member of the U.S. team qualified for at least one of the event finals, which will take place over three days during the next week. The U.S. will send two women to each event final except for vault, where three-time world champ Simone Biles, who will also compete on floor and beam, will be the lone U.S. representative. Raisman and Biles also qualified into the all-around final, which takes place Thursday.
"The key now is getting enough rest," Raisman, 22, said after Tuesday's team final. "That's the key for me. We'll have the morning off and a quick workout tomorrow and then it's just preparing and staying calm."
It is conceivable -- no, probable -- that the U.S. women will leave Rio with every gold medal on the table, and perhaps four silver medals, to boot. Biles has the very real possibility of nabbing five gold medals and finally putting to rest the debate over whether she is the greatest gymnast of all time. (Spoiler alert: She is.)
If Madison Kocian and Gabby Douglas perform the flawless bar routines they landed Tuesday, they will go 1-2 in that event. Biles and Raisman should do the same on floor, and Biles is the vault favorite.
Laurie Hernandez, who has been as consistent as any gymnast in Rio, could conceivably give Biles a run on beam, especially if Biles falters. Biles finished .67 ahead of Hernandez on beam in the team final, but Hernadez's Sunday qualification score of 15.366 would have been good enough to beat Biles' 15.3 from Tuesday. Hernandez has five days off before Monday's beam finals, while Biles will compete in the all-around and vault first.
So while it's a long shot, the topic of a Hernandez upset on beam is at least open for debate.
"I get what you're saying, but I'm not going to tell her that. The less that she knows, the better," said Maggie Haney, Hernandez's coach. "I saw that she is going to be last on beam, but she doesn't know that yet, either. That'll be good. We'll be in the back gym warming up and she'll come out two routines before hers and hop up and she won't know anything. She's young, her eyes get big, and her head gets crazy. I don't want her to worry about any of that."
For all five women, the next week will be about staying focused and not allowing extra energy to seep out of their systems. Although Biles seems as well built and mentally solid as any athlete for the rigors of Olympic competition, even she has admitted in the past to competing on tired legs. Even more important is to make sure she's not competing with a tired mind.
"It's easy, really, because you take it one day at a time," Biles said. "We train so hard for this all year, and that's what we are here to do."
It's a script Biles rarely deviates from, but when she and her coach, Aimee Boorman, say they take it one meet, one routine, one skill at a time, they aren't being coy. Boorman doesn't allow Biles to get ahead of the moment, so until team qualification was over, they didn't talk about the team final. Until the team gold medal was placed around Biles' neck, she didn't let her mind wander to Thursday's all-around competition.
When Biles walks into the Rio Arena for each day's competition, she doesn't allow herself to look at the Olympic rings. That would make these competitions feel special, and if Karolyi has taught her athletes anything, it is that every competition routine should feel like every routine in the gym.
Still, it's got to be hard not to imagine, if just for a minute, what it will be like to stand on the medal stand and fulfill individual goals while cementing this team as the greatest ever and the first to win six Olympic gold medals.
"We saw it happen in prelims, obviously, but we just try to focus on doing our routines the best we can," Raisman said. "If you get too caught up in thinking about winning, you're not thinking about doing one skill at a time. We're trying to stay in our bubble. We know we have a lot of pressure on us, but we are making sure we stay grounded and humble and keep working hard. We still have more to do."