Russia rallies for gold in rhythmic gymnastics group final

Team Bulgaria performs during the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Team Spain celebrates after their performance during the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Team Russia wave from the podium before receiving their gold medals during the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

RIO DE JANEIRO — A botched ribbon toss — a miscue that ended with one of Russia's streamers briefly laying on the Rio Olympic Arena floor — put the overwhelming favorites in the rhythmic gymnastics group final in an unfamiliar spot after the first of two rotations on Sunday.

There the Russians were in third place behind Spain and Bulgaria. Rather than panic, Russia went the other way.

"It just boosted us," Anastasiia Tatareva said. "It forced us to pull ourselves together and do the best and not to give any chance to our opponents."

There usually never is when Russia is on its game. The five-woman team responded with a brilliant finish during the second rotation — an intricate set of dancing and gymnastics that included tossing clubs and hoops with precision that would look right at home in Cirque Du Soleil — to claim a fifth straight Olympic gold.

Russia's two-round total of 36.233 was good enough to survive a serious scare from Spain, which returned to the podium for the first time since 1996 with a silver. Spain led qualifying on Saturday and was on top again after ribbons, though the Russians believe Spain's lead had as much to do with their own rare mistake.

"There was a little hiccup," Tatareva said. "But then everything went smoothly and we put everything together and finished well."

Spain, which won the first Olympic gold awarded in the sport when it was introduced in Atlanta in 1996, was hardly complaining about the outcome. Four years ago the Spanish were a close fourth. A medal of any color would have been fine, though even they were taken aback when they found themselves on top of the leaderboard during qualifying.

"Yesterday came as a surprise to us," Alejandra Quereda said. "Of course we worked toward a medal but we didn't expect things to happen like that. For us, a silver medal tastes like gold to us."

It also raised the stakes heading toward Tokyo. Russia remains on top, though the gap may finally be closing.

"Nobody is undefeatable," Quereda said. "We could see that yesterday. Yes, Russia is strong in rhythmic gymnastics but we're getting there."

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