London: The United States women`s gymnastics team crushed Russia in a head-to-head battle for gold as Britain finished sixth in the North Greenwich Arena.
Three phenomenal vaults set the US on the way to victory while Russia cracked on beam and floor under the pressure.
Britain, with no realistic medal hopes in a strong field, dropped a place from qualifying but still recorded their best post-war women`s team result.
Romania took bronze as 2008 Olympic champions China missed the podium.
The result is devastating for Russia, who for much of the final looked set to take the best American team in decades down to the wire for gold.
But the intensity of the Olympic final began to show on the Russians` penultimate piece, the beam, as 2010 all-around champion Aliya Mustafina wobbled uncharacteristically.
Her score of 14.533 allowed a shaft of daylight between the Russian and US scores, which widened considerably as all three Russian gymnasts endured miserable routines on the floor to finish, whereas American trio Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman shone.
Though the scoring system in gymnastics is constantly evolving, the five-mark winning margin between the US (183.596) and silver-medallists Russia (178.530) is the widest for generations. The victors outshone even the "Magnificent Seven" who won a famous victory at their home Games in Atlanta 16 years ago.
While Britain`s own famous five male gymnasts basked in Monday`s bronze medal, the GB women knew their medal hopes were practically non-existent with two other powers, China and Romania, also competing in this final.
In the event a resurgent Romania outclassed the defending Olympic champions for bronze, particularly on the floor, scoring 176.414 to 174.430.
That left Britain`s five-woman team - Beth Tweddle, Hannah Whelan, Imogen Cairns, Jennifer Pinches and Rebecca Tunney - aiming at the remaining four places.
Though they were surprised a little by the Canadians, who took fifth by three-tenths of a mark (170.804 to 170.495), they took heart from what remains a step forward.
"You can`t be disappointed," said Tweddle, whose bars routine to finish the competition scored 15.833 even counting a missed connection between moves, suggesting she presents a real gold-medal threat in her individual final next week.
"Obviously we`ve dropped from qualifying but it`s not a major disappointment. Four years ago we didn`t make the final, at least we`ve made strides in the past four years.
"We came in knowing the four powerhouses were fighting for the medals and we were fighting with the other countries.
"I`ve waited a long time for [an Olympic] medal, and I`ve done a couple of routines now that are in the medal rankings. [Today`s] was two-tenths down on start value but looking around, I think it`s still up there in the top three."
Fifteen-year-old Tunney, the youngest British Olympian at London 2012 in her first Olympic final, said: "First Olympic Games and we`re getting into the team final and finishing sixth, you can`t ask for anything bigger.
"It was inspiring to see the men get a medal. They did their best yesterday and so did we, even though we didn`t medal."
BDST: 1529 HRS, August 1, 2012
Chanchal Ghosh, Newsroom Editor
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