The second day of apparatus finals had its share of surprises, although none trumped the dramatic turn of events yesterday on women's vault. Nobody really gave it away today, because each of the three gold medalists had legitimate shots at their titles going into their respective events.
With defending champion He Kexin starting the final with a brilliant routine and the highest E-score of 7.1, the pressure definitely was on for the remaining seven. Most worked to potential, except Gabby Douglas, who finished her full pirouette too early and went the wrong way. It was the type of mistake I think many expected of her in previous rounds.
Top qualifier Beth Tweddle had the routine to win, and she hit it beautifully until her new tucked double-double over-rotated and sent her staggering backward. Tweddle has been doing a tucked full-out for several years, and it is really difficult to add another twist that late in the skill, since twisting increases rotation. At least she got the bronze, having placed fourth in Beijing.
With Tweddle out of the way, Aliya Mustafina really was the only other finalist with a chance to surpass He, and she didn't let it slip through her fingers. Like Tweddle, Mustafina is masterful at linking difficult skills from high to low and back again. And she handled the pressure well. Her advantage here was a stuck dismount, which placed her 0.20 ahead of He. Finally a gold for the Russian women.
What a final. All three medalist had 6.8 D-scores, so the difference came in execution. I was a little confused by the outcome, because defending champion Chen Yibing looked flawless and stuck his full-twisting double layout dismount. He was smiling throughout the rest of the final, and even at the end, when he was bumped to second by Brazil's Arthur Nabarrete, 15.90-15.80. Did he not see the scoreboard? Nabarrete showed slightly better strength moves than Chen, but he also took a step on his dismount. This result could have gone either way.
Italy's Matteo Morandi got the bronze with 15.733, although fourth-place Alexander Balandin of Russia looked visibly perturbed by the outcome. (Welcome to the obscure world of an Olympic rings final, Alexander. Go talk to Jordan Jovtchev if you have a gripe.)
Speaking of Jovtchev, the 39-year-old pulled out another solid routine, even if his knees buckled a bit on his dismount. He placed seventh with 15.108, but perhaps there should be a new rule that adds bonus tenths if you are more than a decade older than some of your competitors.
Easily the most thrilling final so far, men's vault has escalated to new heights — and distances. Lead-off vaulter Flavius Koczi opened with a Lopez (Kasamatsu-double twist) but then popped out of his planned handspring-randi and did a rudi instead. The judges didn't catch it and credited him with a 7.0 vault instead of a 6.2. He remained in first place after a few more vaulters, which was kind of interesting. Koczi did well to keep a smile off his face each time the scoreboard showed him in first. It was fun while it lasted, but his score was finally lowered and he finished seventh. I guess you just can't get anything past these judges.
Each of the three medalists had two vaults worth at least 7.0, and Ukraine's Igor Radivilov opened with a stuck Dragulescu (7.0) that is easily the highest in the world right now. He followed with a Tsukahara-double pike (7.0) with a big step for the early lead (16.316).
Russia's Denis Ablyazin trumped him with a stuck Tsukahara-double pike (7.0) and came back with a roundoff half-on to handspring-randi (7.2). He edged the Ukrainian with 16.399.
This set the stage, or runway, for world champion Yang Hak Seon, the Korean who vaults a 7.4 handspring-front with a triple twist. And he makes it look easier than guys who are doing double-twisting fronts. He made it look easy again today, even though he needed two large steps to harness his momentum. Not to worry, though. He followed that vault with a Lopez (7.0) that floated to the mat with a stuck landing. His average was 16.533, but he was anything but.
The other finalists had at least one highlight vault (Sam Mikulak's stuck double front; Tomas Gonzalez's stuck Tsuk-double pike; Kristian Thomas's excellent Yurchenko-double pike), but they all lacked the overall difficulty to challenge the three medalists today.
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