The first day of apparatus finals, which featured men's floor exercise, pommel horse and women's vault, certainly had its share of surprises. Here's a breakdown of what happened on the first of three days of event finals in London.
Wow. Talk about a shocker. The gold was there for world champion McKayla Maroney to grasp. All she needed to do was stay on her feet. And after she landed another strong Amanar, she was in the driver's seat.
In hindsight, she didn't need to risk the roundoff half-on to handspring front-full. She could have done a much safer Podkopayeva. Instead, she came onto the table much too high and had absolutely no block to complete the vault. She's lucky to have won any medal, because if you read my column the other day, you'll know that I think a fall on vault should cost you a lot more than 1.0. The landing reveals everything that was wrong in the air. And in Maroney's case, she wasn't even close to completing that vault.
We tend to forget that Maroney is still relatively inexperienced, and I believe that contributed to her misfortune here.
"I know I can do better vaults, but I also know I didn't deserve the gold medal," she said. "It happens. It's gymnastics. You can't always be perfect. Sometimes things don't go as planned."
Last up, Sandra Izbasa must have thought she was dreaming, having seen Maroney leave the title untouched. Credit to Izbasa for learning the same vault Maroney crashed, and she followed it with a tidy double-twisting Yurchenko (big hop, though). She deserved the gold in what was not a very competitive final when you think of all the Amanars the U.S. came to London with. Either Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber or Aly Raisman could have advanced to the final along with Maroney if they would have performed a second vault in prelims.
The bronze went to Maria Paseka of Russia, but my vote would have gone to Germany's Janine Berger, whose handspring-rudi and Tsukahara-double twist were both done well. Just landing issues, but nothing serious. She had a higher combined D-score than Paseka, whose Amanar barely made it past 2.25 twists, and she stepped completely off the landing mat. You could make the argument that Berger deserved silver.
In her sixth Olympics, Oksana Chusovitina obviously knew she didn't come up with the goods this time. But just getting to the final was quite an achievement.
Yamilet Pena crashed her Produnova vault, which was not unexpected. She probably shouldn't have qualified to the final in the first place.
Canada did well to qualify two vaulters, and Brittany Rogers performed well but lacked the difficulty to finish higher than seventh. Teammate Ellie Black landed her handspring-rudi in a prone position and was given a zero. She balked on her second attempt, coming up limping. A forgettable experience she will remember forever.
Men's Floor Exercise
It's official. Zou Kai of China can be considered a big meet competitor, since he's won the floor gold in consecutive Olympic Games (15.933). As usual, he did it with difficulty, and while his form isn't great, it's not as noticeable here as it is on high bar. His 6.9 D-score trumped the 6.7 of runner-up Kohei Uchimura (15.80), the 2011 world floor champ. Uchimura's 9.10 was the highest E-score of the final, but Zou had the second-highest at 9.033.
Russia's Denis Ablyazin, a fireplug of a gymnast, tied Uchimura at 15.80, but won the bronze for having a lower E-score. His 7.1 D-score was the highest, though. Only in this respect (the tiebreaker) does the Code of Points reward execution. Nowhere else, it seems.
None of the other finalists were in the running for a medal, although Chile's Tomas Gonzalez who place fourth with 15.366, had the most interesting routine of the group. Corner transitions and strong tumbling. A pleasure to watch.
With the lowest D-score (6.4), American Jake Dalton finished fifth and really had little to no chance to medal if everyone hit.
No upset here. Hungary's Kristian Berki fixed the flaws that had hurt him in qualifications, and he put forth an artistic masterpiece on pommel horse. His flair work in the beginning was mesmerizing, and everything else was flawless. Top-qualifier Louis Smith was almost has smooth, although he swings a bit more piked than Berki. Both totaled 16.066, but Berki's 9.166 E-score gave him the gold. Smith had a 7.0 D-score to Berki's 6.9, but a 9.066 E-score prevented him from winning outright.
"I competed one of the best routines of my life, and it was tough waiting for the score," Smith said. "But to come second to one of the best pommel horse workers the world's ever seen — I'm a luck guy."
Smith's British teammate Max Whitlock took the bronze with a clean set that ended with a handstand pirouette that went to the end and back again. His 15.60 was well behind the leaders, but he stayed ahead of Italy's Alberto Busnari, who opened his routine with two handstand flaired pirouettes that were gorgeous. Going first in the line-up probably didn't help him much.