When Simone Biles stuck the last tumbling pass during her floor routine at the women’s artistic team all-around competition, 19-year-old Annie McDonahue took a deep breath, sighed and began to break down in tears.
“This is a dream come true; this is unreal,” McDonahue said. “I knew (the Americans) could do it, but I never imagined I would be here in Rio to see it happen.”
On Aug. 9, the US Women’s Gymnastics Team won gold at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with a 184.897, retaining its all-around title. For McDonahue, it was a moment she had always dreamt of. The former gymnast and Kokomo, Indiana, native had never been to the Olympic Games, and the only tickets she had coming to Rio were for women’s gymnastics.
“I’m all about Team USA and women’s gymnastics,” McDonahue said. “I’m the same age as Simone, and it kind of makes me feel like I have some sort of connection with her. I didn’t want to see any other events down here really. I just really wanted to see (the team) when I knew they were going to win the gold.”
Although the Americans were slated to dominate in competition, fans had high emotions throughout the evening, erupting at every twist and turn the gymnasts had to offer. During the second rotation, the U.S. Women’s routines on bars put Jason Summers and Jonathon Lefton, a couple from Pennsylvania, on the edge of their seats.
“It’s not their best event, and we had a few gasp moments,” Summers said. “It wasn’t anything that I thought would ruin the chances for getting gold, but it was honestly a reminder that this stuff is not easy and getting first is something that has to be earned here.”
After bars, Lefton said a growing first-place margin throughout the rest of the competition only heightened the emotions he was having.
“We’ve got our American flag banners, and we’re really just naturally loud, so the rest of the meet was just a hype session because we knew that first-place title was getting closer and closer,” Lefton said. But by the time the “Final Five,” as they’re popularly known, were waving from the podium beneath the American flag, some audience members weren’t cheering — they were crying.
“I had hope for Russia today, but it was not enough,” Emalia Sokolov of Russia said. “We came halfway across the world to have this opportunity, but there is a lot of great talent that the American gymnasts have.”
Sokolov, who said she had become friends with Russian Olympic gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan in Moscow, traveled to Rio with her family, hoping to see an upset for the U.S. women. The Americans edged out the Russians, who took home silver, by more than eight points.
“It’s very hard not to like this American team and their abilities,” Sokolov said. “But it’s a very hard loss for the Russian team; I know it is. To try this hard and finish in second, my heart hurts for them.”
Further down the finisher list, local hopefuls watched and cheered intently for Brazilian gymnasts, despite an eighth-place finish for the team overall. Julia Reminga, a Rio native at the competition, said watching the Brazilian team compete was more than she could have ever asked for — no matter the outcome.
“To live in Brazil and see our team out here representing us at the Olympics, of course I love it,” Reminga said. “These girls work so hard, and I love seeing their smiles. It makes my screaming and shouting so worth it to see them smiling.”
Reminga considers herself a “big, big gymnastics fan,” and even followed the Brazilian women’s gymnastics team to Beijing in 2008. Although the team placed eighth overall in those Olympic Games as well, Reminga said she’s also started cheering another team on for first.
“I like to be a realistic gymnastics fan. I will chant ‘U-S-A’ with Americans in this special moment,” she said. “To win so much, so easily and with so many smiles and good character, I don’t think the gold was deserved to anyone but those five Americans. It’s something to celebrate. I’m so glad I could be here for this moment.”
Later this week and into the next, some gymnasts will continue to individual event and all-round finals. Biles, who claimed three first-place spots in qualifications, has the likely potential to win five gold medals in Rio if her dominant performance continues.
Casey Smith is a Ball State University student and writes for the Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and faebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.