ROTTERDAM, Netherlands -- Aliya Mustafina led Russia to the team title at the world championships Wednesday ahead of the United States and Olympic champion China.
Despite three Russian falls on the uneven bars, 16-year-old Mustafina kept a cool head throughout the evening, leading the Russians to an overall score of 175.397. The U.S. finished with 175.196 and China had 174.781.
It all came down to the last routine of the day, when Mustafina had to respond on the floor to a great vault by Alicia Sacramone that put the U.S. team momentarily into the lead.
As the last woman out, Mustafina thrilled the 8,000-capacity crowd at the Ahoy Arena and, even though she stepped out on her last tumble, it was good enough for team gold.
"She looks great. I was very impressed," Sacramone said. "The Russians really deserved it."
The tension hung long in the air, with the Russians huddling and looking away from the result board, while some Americans stared at it anxiously. The final margin came down to one error over 12 performances, but it was enough for Russia's first major gold medal in the women's team event in almost 20 years, since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Mustafina's performance of 14.666 contrasted sharply with the 12.533 of Mattie Larson, who missed part of her routine and slumped on her final tumble.
During the first five days of competition, Mustafina stood out to the extent that already questions came up whether the Moscovite student was as good at the great Svetlana Khorkina.
"Let's see, maybe better," head coach Alexander Alexandrov said.
On the beam and floor, she certainly proved a natural elegance and flaunted her great jumping and balance skills. She is heavily favored to win the individual all-around on Friday and has qualified for all four apparatus finals, giving her a shot at five more medals.
And on Wednesday, she proved she certainly could handle all the pressure thrown at her.
The teams for the final were limited to three performers, with all scores counting, so one miss by one athlete could have made the difference.
The system also increased the importance of the top gymnasts in the competition and the head-to-head between Mustafina and American Rebecca Bross provided a preview of Friday's individual all-around, in which the pair are expected to top the podium.
Mustafina set the tone on the vault in the first rotation with an even better performance than in qualifying. Russia immediately built a lead of more than a point, but vault usually yields higher marks to performers.
The second rotation had all the drama with Russia's Anna Dementyeva, Tatiana Nabieva and China's Jiang Yuyan falling off the uneven bars, while Aly Raisman needed a wild recovery to stay on the beam. Sacramone also briefly slipped before recovering.
At the halfway stage, China had moved into first place with Russia tumbling to third.
With the floor up next for the U.S., Larson fell to her knees on her final jump, costing points, but Reisman and Bross were clean. Despite Mustafina again excelling on the beam, the Chinese led Russia and the United States going into the final rotation.
The U.S. appeared to have a crucial advantage with Sacramone performing excellently on the high-scoring vault, but Mustafina responded in style for the Russians.
"I could add a bit of performance on beam," Sacramone said, when analyzing where the difference lay. "We could have been a little bit stronger on floor."