TOKYO -- Just imagine if the Americans were at full strength.
Unfazed by the loss of Beijing Olympic captain Alicia Sacramone, the United States women won their third world gymnastics title Tuesday with a commanding performance that let everyone know they're the team to beat next summer in London -- regardless of who's on the roster.
The Americans scored 179.411 points, finishing a whopping four points ahead of Russia, last year's champion
"I just told them, 'We're going to remember this night for the rest of our lives so let's make it count,' " Aly Raisman said.
Even the Russians had to applaud as the Americans finished on floor exercise, the gold medal already decided.
As the last notes of Raisman's music faded, the Americans jumped up and down and exchanged hugs. They gave a big cheer of "U-S-A!" as they waited for Raisman's score, then walked off the floor, index fingers held high in the air.
"I was hoping for it, but I could not be 100 percent sure because there were so many newcomers," national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said, beaming. "These girls were standing up very confident, very powerful out there."
The gold is the 10th medal at worlds for Sacramone, breaking the American record she'd shared Shannon Miller and Nastia Liukin. Sacramone, who had surgery Monday to repair a torn Achilles tendon, sent a message to the team on Twitter afterward, saying, "Words can't describe how proud I am of all of you!"
Alexander Alexandrov, Russia's coach, insisted he was more than "satisfied" with the second-place finish. The Russians were without defending world champion Aliya Mustafina, who blew out her knee in April, and Alexandrov said Anna Dementyeva had been running a fever in recent days.
The Americans were dealt a huge blow when Sacramone tore her Achilles during training last week. Not only did that leave Raisman as the only American who'd competed at a world championships -- Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Sabrina Vega and Gabby Douglas are all first-year seniors -- but Sacramone puts up huge scores on vault, where she was the defending world champion, and on balance beam and floor exercise.
But the youngsters never faltered, cruising through qualifying without a single missed routine. However, team finals are a different type of pressure-cooker. Scoring starts from scratch, and the format changes, with three gymnasts competing on each event and all three scores counting.
There is zero room for error -- or growing pains.
"There's only one better way to follow a 20-for-20 performance (in qualifying), and that's 12-for-12 in team finals," U.S. coach John Geddert said. "I think they're oblivious. I didn't see one ounce of nerves out there. It was, 'Let's have fun and go do gymnastics.' "
They started on vault -- where even without Sacramone, they're a fearsome bunch.
Raisman had the "weakest" vault -- any other country would have been thrilled to have it count in its score -- and she executed it perfectly. Wieber and Maroney each do one of the hardest vaults in the world -- a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the vault and then 2½ twists before landing -- yet made it look like child's play.
Wieber's was possibly the best she's done all year, soaring high above the vault and needing only a small step to the side to control her landing. Maroney did one even better, with great height, perfect form and a solid landing.
The Americans scored a 46.816, and Russia couldn't match it -- either in difficulty or execution. All three of its gymnasts did less-difficult vaults, and Tatiana Nabieva's was so low she was lucky not to land on her knees. By the time they moved to the second rotation, the Americans had built a 2.3-point lead.
The Russians cut the deficit to about 1.5 points after the uneven bars -- Russia's best event, and the Americans' worst.
The Russians ended all suspense, however, when Viktoria Komova melted down. She couldn't hang on after a series of back handsprings and fell off the balance beam, then stumbled backward after under-rotating her opening pass on floor exercise.
"It already was exciting," Karolyi said. "But once balance beam was finished, in my mind, I said, 'We have this.' "