Like most of the competition at the Olympic Games thus far, the first day of event finals were wild and unpredictable in many ways, but more importantly, it was also a day where gymnasts overcame the odds and broke barriers for their countries by becoming the first Olympic champions in their disciplines.
Rebeca Andrade already made history for Brazil once this week when she won her silver medal in the all-around, becoming the first Brazilian woman to win a medal at the Olympic Games, and today she went even further by becoming the first Brazilian Olympic champion in women’s gymnastics when she won gold in the vault final.
Going for broke by upgrading to an Amanar for her second vault after performing an excellent Cheng to start, Andrade – who fought back from three ACL surgeries and has missed most world championships due to injuries – had a big hop on the landing, but was otherwise incredible in her form and power on both to average a 15.083, just over a tenth ahead of MyKayla Skinner, who put up the same vaults and was excellent on both, but just didn’t get the power Andrade had.
While silver on vault wasn’t a historic moment for the United States, you could say that it was for Skinner, who managed this victory against all odds after missing out on the teams in 2012 and 2016, and then also initially missing the apparatus finals here. Skinner thought her Olympics – and her career – were over, but with Simone Biles withdrawing from the competition, it gave Skinner a second chance, and she did everything she could in this final to make sure she ended up on that podium.
It was also a cause for celebration when Yeo Seo-jeong of South Korea took the bronze, averaging a 14.733 with a deep but excellent handspring front double full, which Yeo got named for her in 2019, and a powerful Yurchenko double, where Yeo stumbled on the landing, but was excellent in the air. Yeo is the first woman from South Korea to win a medal in this sport, and she also follows in the footsteps of her father, Yeo Hong-chul, who won silver on vault at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Alexa Moreno of Mexico missed the podium by just 0.017, putting up strong efforts on her handspring rudi and tsuk double full, but falling just slightly short in terms of her difficulty, finishing with a 14.716 average. Angelina Melnikova and Lilia Akhaimova of Russia placed fifth and sixth with scores of 14.683 and 14.666, respectively, and Shallon Olsen of Canada was seventh with a 14.550, all putting up strong vaults, but just not being quite at a hundred percent in their form.
The saddest moment in the final was seeing U.S. medal threat Jade Carey wind up off in her steps on the runway as she approached the table for her Cheng, causing her to balk the half-on out of the roundoff and compete just a Yurchenko back tuck, worth only a 3.3 in difficulty. Carey looked like she was immediately ready to cry, but sucked it up and went back for second vault, the Amanar, which she landed with a large step forward, but at this point, nothing she did would have helped her place anything but eighth.
In addition to the low score for her first attempt, Carey also received a two-point penalty on her Amanar for competing two vaults with the same Yurchenko entry, and she wound up with just a 12.416 average, a nightmare of a score for someone capable of nearly three full points higher. I’m proud of Carey for going ahead with the second vault, but am devastated that this happened to her after she’s been such a powerhouse on this event all quad, and I hope it makes her come back fighting in the floor final tomorrow.
The bars final was a messy one, but not for Nina Derwael, who made history as the first woman to win a medal in gymnastics for Belgium, after doing the same at European championships in 2017, and then again at worlds a year later. With most of this quad’s major titles under her belt, Derwael came into the final as a top threat for gold, but with Sunisa Lee of the United States right at her heels, she wasn’t going to get it without a fight.
Derwael, who also competed bars in prelims, the team final, and the all-around final, had her only real iffy moment of the Games in today’s routine, arching on her toe full a little to give her less momentum into her full-in dismount, which ended up close to the bar and with a small step on the landing. But it was a good fight there, and the rest of her routine was strong enough to make up for what was ultimately a small error, and she was able to get the win with a 15.2, the highest in the field by nearly four tenths.
The silver went to Anastasia Iliankova, whose routine is so similar to Derwael’s, but with only two big releases at the start instead of three, holding her difficulty back a bit. This was a strong set from Iliankova, with a bend in the hips on her toe full and her leg from on the Ezhova the only two small problem areas in the set, getting her to a 14.833 with the highest execution of the meet.
Lee, Derwael’s biggest competition for the top spot, struggled with her connections today, missing most of her big ones and struggling with some of her execution on skills where she’s normally pretty clean, but she still managed to pull off a hit to win the bronze with a 14.5, showing how important it is to keep fighting even if you think you’re out of the running.
With Lee’s mistakes, it seemed like a bars medal could be anyone’s game, but both Lu Yufei of China and Elisabeth Seitz of Germany also had small mistakes in their routine, finishing fifth and sixth with matching scores of 14.4. Lu had significant leg separations on all of her skills and caught her Jaeger close to the bar, while Seitz muscled her blind change into her piked Jaeger, and piked down on her toe full into her full-in dismount.
There were also bigger mistakes from the rest in the field, with Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France starting out strong but falling out of a front pirouette to finish sixth with a 14.033, Fan Yilin of China getting through most of her routine with ease until a short front pirouette gave her no momentum into her dismount, which she sat, earning a 13.9, and Angelina Melnikova of Russia getting stuck halfway through her toe full, hopping off to finish eighth with a 13.066.
The men’s floor title went to Artem Dolgopyat, who earned Israel’s first medal in artistic gymnastics with some of the most difficult tumbling in the field, though the decision was a bit controversial, as he tied Spain’s Rayderley Zapata in both total score (14.933) and execution (8.433), but then won the second tie-breaker on difficulty, where he had a 6.6 to Zapata’s 6.5.
In cases like these where athletes tie on both total score and execution but not on difficulty, it’s because the athlete with the higher difficulty has a penalty for going out-of-bounds. The tie-breaker essentially allows the athlete with the penalty to drop it by taking their higher difficulty into account, so in this sense it’s just a really unfair way to rank athletes, but many watching also felt that Dolgopyat’s execution score on its own was too high due to multiple rough landings throughout, compared to Zapata’s brilliantly landed passes.
I’d argue that Dolgopyat is much tighter in most of his form than Zapata, so while Zapata had the better overall quality routine thanks to his landings, Dolgopyat made up for his rough landings with how everything looked in the air, and that was the difference. When his landings are there, Dolgopyat’s execution scores typically teeter around the 9.0 line, and he was awarded with an 8.8 in the final at worlds in 2019, so I wasn’t all that surprised to see him still score relatively high even with his landings today.
While the gymternet is enraged for Zapata, the man himself seemed more than happy with the silver medal, which was Spain’s first medal in men’s gymnastics since Gervasio Deferr won silver in 2008. Gold would have been an incredible reward, but Zapata knew he’d need to do a lot to upset Dolgopyat, and he seemed thrilled no matter the result.
Coming in for the bronze was Xiao Ruoteng of China, the 2020 all-around silver and team bronze medalist, who had the cleanest routine of the day, but was a little behind in difficulty, with his total score a 14.766.
Behind the top group, the young Ryu Sung-hyun of South Korea ended up fourth with a 14.233. He lacks the polish of the more experienced competitors, but his difficulty is second to none at a 7.0, with twisting passes that include a front full to front triple full, 2½ to front double full, triple full side pass, and a 3½ to finish. It wasn’t his time just yet, but check back in 2024 – I think he’ll come into his own and become a major podium contender.
Milad Karimi of Kazakhstan was fifth with a 14.133, looking strong aside from a big hop on his 3½ to rudi, Yul Moldauer of the United States was sixth with a 13.533 after hitting all of his passes well but messing up his flairs, Nikita Nagornyy of Russia was seventh with a 13.066 due to a rough landing on his piked triple back, and Kim Han-sol of South Korea had a fall out of his circles, a weird mistake similar to Moldauer’s, that held him back to a 13.066 despite mostly strong tumbling.
The pommels title went to Max Whitlock of Great Britain, who defended his Rio 2016 win with ease after upgrading to a 7.0 routine and hitting it well. He moved pretty well today, showing lots of control and endurance to make it through relatively unscathed, just taking hits on his difficulty due to toe point and hip angles, but when his 15.583 was posted after he was the first to compete, it was pretty clear he would be next to unbeatable.
The guy who came closest was Lee Chih Kai of Taiwan, winning the first Olympic medal in gymnastics for his country, where the top apparatus finish prior to this Lee’s 31st place finish on the same event in 2016. He had a massive routine with brilliant flair work and gorgeous lines helping him to the highest execution score in the final at an 8.7, while his total score came out to a massive 15.4.
Kaya Kazuma snagged the first apparatus medal for Japan with his bronze, overcoming a few small form breaks with a solid level of difficulty to earn a 14.9, less than a tenth ahead of David Belyavskiy of Russia, who had the cleaner set, but lost out on difficulty, and came fourth with a 14.833.
Rounding out the competition were Kameyama Kohei of Japan in fifth with a 14.600 after fighting through a few form breaks throughout, Alec Yoder of the United States in sixth with a 14.566 due to an iffy start to his set, Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland in seventh with a 13.100 with a fall after his hand placement seemed a bit off during some single pommel work, and Sun Wei of China in eighth with a 13.066, falling on his Russians on the single pommel.
Tomorrow’s event finals will feature women’s floor exercise alongside men’s rings and vault, and the competition will conclude on Tuesday, with balance beam for the women, and parallel bars and high bar for the men.
Article by Lauren Hopkins