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Russia wins 4th group title, sweeps Olympic golds

Sunday - 8/12/2012, 11:49am  ET

By NANCY ARMOUR
AP National Writer

LONDON (AP) - The Russians stood on the podium, belting out their anthem for the entire arena to hear.

With the way Russia has dominated Olympic rhythmic gymnastics, everybody ought to know it by now.

The Russians won their fourth straight Olympic gold medal in the group event Sunday at the London Games, giving them yet another clean sweep of the rhythmic events. Russia has won both rhythmic titles at every Olympics dating to the Sydney Games in 2000.

"We just found out about that!" Uliana Donskova exclaimed. "Russian rhythmic gymnastics is the best."

She won't get much of an argument about that.

Russia finished with 57 points, a whopping 1.5 points ahead of Belarus. Italy, which had hoped to break Russia's stranglehold on the Olympic gold after winning the last three world titles, was third after mistakes on both of its routines.

"We understand that the Russians are going to be favorites in every event," Marta Pagnini said. "We understand we are quite close, but, nevertheless, we must work hard."

The Russians didn't even bother waiting for the final standings, exchanging hugs and blowing kisses at the camera before the score of Ukraine, the last team to perform, was announced. They waved Russian flags above their head as they exited the arena, and hopped onto the podium as one to receive their gold medals _ no easy feat with a handful of gymnasts and a tiny space.

And once the medals were securely around their neck, three of the Russians bent down and kissed the podium, drawing more boisterous cheers from the large group of fans who'd made Wembley Arena sound more like Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

"We had big support," Donskova said. "It was amazing, so we didn't feel much pressure."

The group event involves five gymnasts using two sets of apparatuses _ five balls, and three ribbons and two hoops _ in routines designed to showcase unison, flexibility and artistic skill.

Imagine a combination of a ballet, a Cirque du Soleil show and a 4-year-old's birthday party run amok, and you get the idea. One second the teams are doing gorgeous arabesques in perfect time together, the next they're whipping brightly colored balls this way and that or tossing hoops high into the air.

The Russians took a solid lead with their first routine, with five balls. Wearing leotards with stiff, sparkly high collars and shocking-pink skirts, the routine was filled with complex choreography. One move featured three of the Russians bending over, as if to create a bridge, while a fourth rolled beneath them. She then joined the bridge, and the last team member did a walkover over all of them.

But it was their routine with the three ribbons and two hoops that showed why no one's been able to knock them off the top spot on the Olympic podium.

Their routine to Latin music was a riot of color and visual illusions, some of their skills so mind-boggling even a magician couldn't figure out how they did them. With the ends of the 20-foot-long ribbons pulled taught on the floor, the handles resting on a hoop, one of the gymnasts stomped on the hoop, sending the ribbons flying into the air like rainbow-colored Silly String.

They used the ribbons to bounce the hoops so high into the air it made the flags hanging from the ceiling flutter, and turned one into a giant spinning circle that one of the gymnasts danced through.

Any chance Italy had of the silver medal, to say nothing of catching the Russians, floated away during the second routine, on the tail of a ribbon that landed outside the red border of the carpet. That's a two-tenths deduction, and it left the Italians trailing Belarus by a mere .05 points.

The Italians also had an error in their first routine when one of the balls landed farther than intended, but they managed to cover it up.

Still, they were satisfied with their bronze medals, proudly holding them aloft.

"The most important thing is we won an Olympic medal," captain Elisa Santoni said. "It's a great goal for us."


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)