The fate of the United States vaulting team seesawed over several days of competition, but it tilted upward over Germany on Sunday, and the United States won its first gold medal in the event.
"This is the culmination of years of very hard work," said Devon Maitozo, coach and senior member of the team.
Germany took team silver, Austria the bronze.
After team compulsories earlier in the week, the United States was in first place.
On Friday, it fell to third when the team's horse was spooked by a moving video camera at the edge of the ring. The horse shied, causing two members of the team to fall. They were not injured.
The camera was still in place Sunday but was not an issue. Maitozo said the team changed its warm-up routine, concentrating on "staying calm."
"We took a step back and collected ourselves," he said. Their horse had a longer warm-up, which seemed to have a calming effect.
"To us, it's about connecting to the music, to each other, to the audience," he said. "We were just in our bodies today. It all came together."
Germany came into Sunday's competition with the highest cumulative team score after two rounds of competition, but its expectations of gold were dashed when two of its vaulters fell. No one was hurt.
"It was just one fall," team member Michaela Hohlmeier said later, looking shocked. "We were so perfect. I don't know what to say. It is sad.
"We have to analyze it before I can say more. We are all too surprised because it never happened before."
Part of vaulting is showmanship, and the Austrian vaulters, who won the bronze team medal, gave an energetic performance based on Cirque de Soleil, with athletes dressed in brightly colored costumes.
"You have to present yourself out there; it is very difficult," team member Daniela Penz said later. "If you have fun doing this sport, it is easier."
Vaulting is not acrobatics on horseback, though that's how some who are uninitiated think of it. Rather, it's more like a theatrical performance, with the athletes and horse moving together in time with the music, Maitozo said.
"It's dancing with the horse, not on the horse," he said.
Music used in the final vaulting competition ranged from a medley of Elvis Presley songs chosen by the Swedish team to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, which the U.S. team selected.
Vaulters take a position and must hold it for three strides of the horse, getting credit for how fluidly they move from one position to another.
This was a strength of the U.S. team Sunday, according to former U.S. vaulting team coach Nancy Stevens Brown, who was a commentator during the competition.
"That is how the team tries to set itself apart," U.S. vaulter Rosalind Ross said.
Several athletes said they hoped having the Games in the United States would give more exposure to all equestrian sports, especially vaulting.
Winning a gold medal in vaulting isn't like winning a gold medal in downhill skiing. Ross said the U.S. vaulting team does not expect offers of lucrative sponsorships or book deals.
She said she hoped interest in the sport would be bolstered so a future gold-medal vaulting team might see its picture on a box of Wheaties.