10 Most Unforgettable Moments in Gymnastics at the London 2012 Olympics

Peishan HoeContributor IIIAugust 7, 2012

10 Most Unforgettable Moments in Gymnastics at the London 2012 Olympics

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    The tears, the triumphant roars, the stunned silences, the pumping fists.

    From Day 1 in the men's team qualifications, we've seen them all at these London Olympic Games' artistic gymnastics events.

    There have been so many upsets and incredible performances that it's a tough call trying to rank them, but here are what I've found to be the top 10 most unforgettable moments in these past 1.5 weeks.

10. Zanetti Upsets Lord of the Rings, Captures Brazil's 1st Gym Olympics Medal

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    He was the last gymnast up, and it looked like the gold was already secured by another gymnast—China's Chen Yibing, the defending Olympic and World champion on the still rings.

    But Brazilian Arthur Zanetti upset the 'Lord of the Rings'—as Chen is known—to steal away with the gold, after what the judges thought to be a cleaner performance up on the rings despite a shuffle on his dismount.

    Chen was the first gymnast up and had held an unquestionable lead over the rest of the field after throwing a solid routine complete with stuck full-twisting double layout dismount over the next six performances.

    Then came Zanetti and the unthinkable. Both Zanetti and Chen performed routines with 6.8 start values, but the judges awarded the Brazilian 0.100 higher in execution, giving him a 15.900 over Chen's 15.800 and the gold—Brazil's first-ever medal in Olympics gymnastics.

    Zanetti's coach's tears said it all.

9. Tweddle Finally, Finally Medals at Olympics and Mustafina's Gold Marks Comeback

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    She's been the British champion, Commonwealth champion, European champion and even World champion, but the Olympics podium had eluded her time and time again.

    That is, until Monday, when Great Britain's Beth Tweddle, one of the most innovative gymnasts ever on the uneven bars, finally got onto that medal stand in her third Olympics, a bronze piece of history proudly draped around her neck.

    It didn't matter that two huge lunges backwards after landing her double double dismount had prevented her from any chance of gold. 

    Tweddle had become the first female British gymnast to ever medal at the Olympics, and what a performance it was in front of her home crowd to cap a successful career.

    I'm going to cheat a little here and also put in Mustafina's gold as a part of this moment (it was also only after Mustafina's performance that Tweddle was bumped down to third place) because it has been such an arduous comeback for the Russian since her busted ACL at last April's European Championships.

    She came into these Games overshadowed by young star Viktoria Komova, but there's no better way to say "I'm back for more" than performing a immensely difficult bars set so beautifully and claiming the gold.

8. Jordyn Wieber Left out of All-Around Final

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    Like it or not, Jordyn Wieber crying in utter devastation after missing out on the all-around final will be a lasting image of these Olympics.

    Not only because the defending world champion failed to qualify at all after teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas posted higher total scores in team prelims, but because of what it said about Team USA and about the rules governing the sport.

    Wieber's heartbreak showed just how strong the Americans were as a team, so much so that even with no falls, the three-time U.S. national and American Cup champ was out under the two-per-country rule for finals.

    Wieber unfortunately could not recover from that setback, stumbling out of her tumbling passes in today's floor final to finish a disappointing seventh.

7. Yang Hak Seon Vaults to Gold, Leaving Rivals Awed

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    This year's men's vault final was so exhilaratingly explosive and exceptional that it took an incredible 16.533—the highest individual event score of the entire Olympics—to win the gold.

    And that victory belonged to the last gymnast up, South Korea's Yang Hak Seon.

    Sure, he is the reigning world champion on this event, but the gymnasts before him had performed the vaults of their lives, with Ukraine's Igor Radivilov sticking a Dragulescu (front handspring double front with half turn out), and Russia's Denis Ablyazin hitting two massive vaults with 14.2 combined start values to lead with what then seemed like an impossible-to-beat 16.399.

    But, along came Yang with his astounding front handspring layout triple twist (a scary 7.4 start value) and a Tsukahara triple to a stuck landing. A stuck landing on a Tsuk triple as a second vault. 

    The roof came off and the other vault finalists nearly knocked Yang over in bear hugs, each one showing great respect for what the Korean had achieved. 

6. Epke Zonderland Becomes High Bar Wonderboy

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    The men really gave the most thrilling event finals of these Olympics, and as if the vault finals weren't enough, they somehow managed to top that with today's high bar final.

    First it was China's Zhang Chenglong, hitting a 7.7 start value routine to post the first score over 16 (16.266). Commentators were sure the silver medalist at the 2011 World Championships would medal again in London with that performance, even after his compatriot and reigning world and Olympic champion Zou Kai topped that with an enormous 7.9 start value to end up with a 16.366.

    Then along came Beijing bronze medalist Fabian Hambuchen, once the high bar prodigy as a junior with the nerdy glasses and now a master of great, clean execution on the apparatus. That helped him compensate for a lower difficulty to go into the lead with 16.400, a score that left the German absolutely delighted. 

    But that was short-lived, because up next was Epke Zonderland and what can only be described as a spectacle of man defying gravity: a packed routine opening with the most difficult combination out there (a Cassina to Kovacs to Kolman, or in human speak, three ridiculously dangerous double somersaults over the bar consecutively) and ending with nothing less than a stuck double double layout and another Games-high 16.533 (just as it was on vault).

    It was an unbelievable feat and such a well-deserved win for Zonderland, bringing home the first Dutch gymnastics gold in 84 years.

5. Three-Time World Champ Kohei Uchimura Finally Claims Olympic Gold

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    He'd come close in Beijing, only to let falls on pommel leave him in second place at the 2008 Olympics all-around final.

    Kohei Uchimura then went on to win an unprecedented three consecutive all-around world championship titles, building his legend as the best male gymnast in the history of the sport.

    But then he finished a distant ninth in this year's Olympic qualifications, looking wearier and a little less surefooted than during his 2011 performances en route to world title number three.

    Everyone knew Uchimura was the undisputed best all-arounder in the field, but would he perform to his abilities in the final and clinch that long-awaited title?

    That he did end up winning it was in itself a glorious moment for him and for Japan.

    But, the fact that he had won it on the back of three world titles with such incredible form was a magnificent moment for the sport, a true melding of high difficulty and immaculate execution.

4. USA Storms to Second Team Gold in History

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    World champions Team USA finally broke their silver streak with a definitive victory in the London team finals, cruising to gold with 12 hit routines from the Fabulous Five.

    As you all already know, it's only the USA's second Olympics team title in history, after a 16-year wait since the Magnificent Seven took home gold in Atlanta.

    Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney—these names will be forever etched in gymnastics history for their dominance, as will the US team's powerhouse status, especially in the last two years.

    It wasn't just that they owned the field, prompting closest rivals Russia to self-implode on floor under the pressure (have we ever seen Kseniia Afanaseva face-plant on her double pike like that, or any Russian miss a tumbling pass completely!), but the way in which they destroyed it that blew the crowd and judges away.

3. Gabby Douglas Completes Three-Peat for Team USA

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    For any country to produce three straight Olympic all-around champs in a row is a mighty, mighty feat—one only accomplished twice before in the Games' history.

    Gabby Douglas not only completed Team USA's three-peat, she also became the first African-American to win the title.

    The only reason why this isn't higher up on this list is because Douglas was the hot favorite after Olympic Trials and her qualifying performance in London (the same goes for the US team title).

    But that doesn't take anything away from what she has achieved for the sport.

2. McKayla Maroney Is Actually Human

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    Who would have guessed that McKayla Maroney was capable of falling? 

    With all the talk of renaming the Amanar vault to a "Maroney" and her near-perfect score in the team finals, the reigning world vault champion was supposed to be the one shoo-in for gold in the entire gymnastics Olympics field.

    No one could seem to agree on who would take the team title, nor who would win the all-around the other event finals. But everybody was in consensus when it came to women's vault and Maroney being in a league of her own.

    She started out the final with a great Amanar, as usual—nothing too fancy by now. And, just as the world thought they'd have to sit through all the celebrations and anthem-singing for a gymnast whom some thought was almost too good to even have to compete, Maroney sat her Mustafina vault, a half on full twisting layout off that is the easier of the two she performs (start value wise, at least). 

    She did still walk away with silver, but it was her look of total disbelief and a brief silence in the arena that encapsulated the moment no one had saw coming. 

1. Great Britain Beat Romania, USA, Ukraine and Russia?!

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    Some did not think they'd live to see the day the British would trump gymnastics powerhouses Russia (and Japan for a couple of minutes!) in the sport's modern era, but my oh my did the young lads from Team Great Britain deliver.

    Buoyed by a roaring, thunderous home crowd, Kristian Thomas, Sam Oldham, Daniel Purvis, Louis Smith and Max Whitlock gave the performances of their lives in the men's team final, driving home their worthiness of a medal with three stunning floor routines in the last rotation.

    Team GB was lying second in the medals after that until an inquiry from Japan regarding Kohei Uchimura's pommel start value pushed the Japanese ahead and left the British with bronze (and the poor Ukranians out of the medals in fourth after 10 minutes of celebrations, surely among the most dramatic of team finals).

    But, it was a stupendous finish for the Brits nonetheless, bringing a century-long drought of team medals to an end.

    It was a difficult decision on who should top this list, but this bronze medal was as shocking as Maroney's silver, held even more historical significance, and was made all the more heartwarming given that this was the London Olympics after all.

    Well done, Great Britain!