History Made for Israel, Brazil, Belgium, and More; Whitlock Defends Pommels Title

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Nina Derwael

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

23 thoughts on “History Made for Israel, Brazil, Belgium, and More; Whitlock Defends Pommels Title

    • I was so worried about both of them, especially when Yeo kept sitting the double full in warmups, but it looked like a bit of adrenaline carried her through! And probably too MUCH adrenaline for Andrade on her Amanar, but better too much power than not enough, and the vault was otherwise gorgeous!

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  1. I KNEW Andrade was gonna pull that Amanar out! So happy for her. And Mykayla! What a great story. Like Dawes in 96 on fx. Getting the chance to go in on an event you are LITERALLY 1 of the best in the world on, and getting ur hardware! And Suni got herself another medal! Rly happy for her. And really happy for Artem and Zapata. 2 guys who have been staples on the world cup circuit, killing their knees and ankles, going 1 n 2! I haven’t even watched these yet, but I’m just happy their hard work paid off. I love these kinds of outcomes.

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  2. Dolgopyat shouldn’t even have had silver; Xiao was much better. Zapata was totally hosed. Iliankova was vastly superior to Derwael. Andrade’s excellent form in the air did not make up for her landings–Skinner was robbed (and I loathe saying that, never having been a Skinner fan.) Massive gifts to winners based on their ‘reputations,’ including Whitlock’s ridiculous overscore.

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  3. I’m not in a position to say if the men’s floor was wrongly scored, but I do want to say that it’s absurd that there is no tie in Olympic gymnastics. Serious why can’t people with the same score get the same place?

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    • Especially a D-score tiebreak. I don’t like any tiebreaks, but I can relatively accept an E-score tiebreak. But a D-score tiebreak just means the person with the extra error gets to win. Because the only way you can tie on E and lose out on D is if the other person had a neutral deduction (which imo is not neutral, but a different type of execution error). It’s like the “drop the lowest score” tiebreak in AA, meaning the person with the worst single routine gets to win.
      Very happy for Dolgopyat, who I’m a fan of, and I loved to see Zapata’s happy emotion on the awards stand, but they should have shared the gold. Zapata’s amplitude was art.

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      • I feel like this one is even worse because it’s more blatant. I can sort of see the argument for the “drop the lowest score in AA” because I can sort of see the argument for the AA one if you look at a different scenario*, but there’s no way that doing a higher D-score tiebreak in the event of matching E scores results in anything but rewarding the gymnast with the most deductions.

        * The scenario I’m imagining here is like if, hypothetically, the 2012 AA tie had been Aly hitting it out of the park on three events but having her customary struggles on bars vs. Mustafina only really being great on bars and okay-but-not-great everywhere else — in that situation, you could make the case that Aly had a better day overall because she was really, really good on three events while Mustafina was only great on one, so dropping the low score would probably favor the right athlete in this case; it’s just that the 2012 situation was in reality Aly having two pretty good hits and two iffier routines vs. Mustafina having one big hit, two okay routines, and one outright bad routine, in which case the drop the low score tiebreaker worked the exact opposite way. For the record, this is why I think any “drop the X score” tiebreaker is likely to be problematic, because any iteration of that can come out wrong depending on the specifics: what I think would work better would be to break it by who has the better scores on each apparatus, since that’s a pretty unquestionable measure that that person had the better day; if it’s an even 2-2 (or 3-3 for the men) split, then break it on cumulative E scores, and in the extremely unlikely event they’re still tied after that, that’s “let it stand” territory even in the current “ties are bad” system.

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    • Thank you! I use TPE for the country code when I use a country code because that’s just what it is, but when I fully write out the name I refer to them as Taiwan as much as I possibly can. I was also enraged to hear Hong Kong referred to as “Chinese Hong Kong” in the Opening Ceremony…

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  4. You know if Simone was REALLY a selfish person, she would have stayed in bar finals, kipped on, and just did the Weiler-full to get it named after her, then hopped off and said, ‘There. Got skills named after me on all 4 events.”)
    Just kidding. Congrats to all the medalists, and to the efforts of all the competitors.

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    • Okay, but now I kind of with she’d done this 😂

      But seriously, I’ve been saying she should go to some random world cup for the specific purpose of getting the Weiler full ever since they announced that rule change!

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  5. Given how many mistakes there have been compared to QF/TF/AA, makes me wonder if there’s something to the no touch warm-up concern that a lot of people have raised.

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    • Separately, every single women’s final has had a historic medal so far and I am totally down for this to keep being a thing.

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    • The No 1-touch is ridiculous and a safety concern, but this isn’t the first competition it’s been in.

      It is normal for gymnasts, like Suni and Angelina, to be tired or distracted after the thrill of victory and grind of team and AA. I think the last time a non-Simone Olympic champ won an event final was 1996. For one example, 1992 beam finals was really an error-fest. There’s so many competitions, with the 1-touch, that had lots of errors.
      Nor is this the first time someone’s messed up a vault run. Jade may have just overthought things with Simone being out and seeing Andrade’s landing errors. Having such an open opportunity for gold present itself is really hard to process and you tighten and try to control too much instead of just going naturally.

      Andrade, Skinner, Yeo, Moreno performed suberbly on vault. Melnikova, Olsen, and Akhaimova performed as well as we’ve seen them. Their form problems didn’t appear because of no 1-touch. They were there before.
      100% I think the 1-touch should be reinstated, but not convinced that was the reason for errors today either.

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      • Something else to consider is that the US chose not to come out for a podium warmup a half hour before the meet. All of the other six in the final did. I worried that it could affect them but was happy to see MyKayla was fine…but for Jade it could be that skipping the podium warmup affected her? The back gym is also on podium but it’s not the same thing. Everyone every worlds and Olympics has to deal with no one-touch for EFs so as crappy as the situation is, it’s not like this is brand new for anyone, especially as Jade has been to two worlds before. I’m surprised the one-touch issue is now becoming such a big deal when worse things have happened in finals before (like Vanessa’s injury in 2017) but I guess one of the best vaulters in the world making such a weird and potentially dangerous mistake is gonna do it.

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        • What I’ve seen in front of TV is that poor JC never was in the right fighting/calm mood as other USA girls.

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        • She looked really confident and together in prelims, and in the AA final too, it was just beam that got her there…I think that’s why I was so shocked by her vault mistake, I thought it would have been the easiest medal for almost anyone in any final!

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      • I agree with both the opinion that the 1-touch should be reinstated and that it isn’t the reason for errors. Errors are common in the Olympic event finals. It’s an exhausting week. The lack of 1-touch was commented on multiple times both by the Bridget/John combo and Nastia/Tim. They actually commented on it even when a competitor didn’t have a mistake but when there was a mistake they saw it as an opportunity to highlight this lack of 1 touch, even though they also probably realize the errors are not because of that.

        To me this is like the no-tie rule. What the heck does it hurt to let there be a tie. They had to today for floor and wow – the earth didn’t open up and swallow the FIG whole. Amazingly, everyone survived sharing the bronze medal. So what can it possibly hurt to allow the 1-touch warmup? It’s just a bunch of rules with no upside and a lot of downside.

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