By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) - It was raining sequins on the final day of the London Games as Russia's rhythmic gymnasts shut out the rest of the world to win a fourth successive group all-around Olympic title on Sunday.
Italy arrived in London having won the last three world titles and had high hopes of knocking the Russians off their pedestal but a slight improvisation in their display with five balls did not go unnoticed by the judges. They were then penalised for dropping a ribbon in their second programme.
Russia produced an exquisite routine with the balls and followed it up with a foot-tapping, hip-shaking Samba performance where they twirled around in unison with three ribbons and two hoops.
A score of 57.000 helped them to edge out surprise silver medallists Belarus by 1.500 while Italy trailed third.
With the eight finalists fielding five glamorous gymnasts for each routine, there was more bling on show at Wembley Arena on Sunday than at a posh London jewellers.
It was little wonder that three attendants were employed just to pick up the dozens of sparkling sequins left scattered on the mat at the conclusion of each performance.
After the opening ball routines, where teams showed off their synchronised choreography and acrobatic skills - rolling the ball along contours of their bodies and using their feet to catapult the ball to fellow gymnasts seemed to be popular moves - the competition came alive with hoops and ribbons.
With 18 metres of ribbons and two hoops on show, the main challenge for the gymnasts is to avoid getting tangled during the two minute 30 second routines.
Italy passed that test but failed another as one of their gymnasts dropped a ribbon. With that their gold medal hopes vanished.
"We committed a minor mistake in the first routine but no one noticed. However, in the second we dropped one ribbon outside the carpet and that compromised our score," said Italian team captain Elisa Santoni.
"Even though we didn't win gold, we still have three world titles and no one can take that away from us."
The 2016 Rio Games seemed to have been on the mind of many teams as there was a distinct Latin flavour to many of the hoop and ribbon routines.
But no one could outdo the Russians who lit up the arena when they stepped on the mat in their fruit-cocktail outfits and then brought the house down with a lethal mix of fizzing choreography and eye-popping tricks.
For the fourth successive Olympics, Russia completed the rhythmic gymnastics double after Evgeniya Kanaeva won the individual all-around gold on Saturday.
It was a fact that was lost on the class of 2012.
"We had no idea that we were going for four in a row," said Uliana Donskova. Asked to explain the secret of Russia's success, she added: "We're born as rhythmic gymnasts."
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Michael Holden)