A thrilling Women’s Artistic Gymnastics program drew to a close in London on Tuesday. It was appropriate that the captain of the 'Fierce Five’ should claim the final gold of the event in the individual floor exercise.
This week, Aly Raisman endured the vicissitudes of this intoxicating and sometimes cruel sport. Raisman was on the wrong side of a tie-break for the bronze medal in the all-round individual event last Thursday, losing out to Russia’s Aliya Mustafina with both on identical scores of 59.566.
After the beam exercise today, it appeared she had fallen to Romania’s Catalina Ponor for the bronze. Her initially rewarded score of 14.933 did not reflect the true standard of her routine.
After an appeal, the judges agreed and raised her score to match Ponor’s score of 15.066. Under the tie-break rule, she was rewarded a bronze after achieving a higher score for execution than Ponor.
The Chinese, Linlin Deng and Lu Sui, who took gold and silver, respectively, dominated the beam competition. The pair performed first and third and set a standard so high the remaining competitors never threatened to emulate. Sui opened the competition with a neat, controlled display and set the bar with a score of 15.5. Ponor was next up before Deng produced the gold medal winning performance.
Team USA's Gabby Douglas stumbled off the beam and was unable to plant her rear foot on landing from a somersault. She struggled to cling on and tried to wrap her feet around the beam before falling off. It was an anti-climatic finish for Douglas—who was the undoubted star of the Gymnastics programme in the overall programs. Her vivacity, skill and poise lit up Excel Arena and she leaves London with two gold medals and the hearts of all who saw her perform. Raisman was last on the beam and completed a clean, dynamic routine, which eventually was enough to earn her a bronze.
The final event was the Women’s Floor exercise and this competition promised to be spectacular. The final line-up contained European and World Champions on floor, as well as the reigning Olympic floor champion, Romania’s Sandra Izbasa.
Kseniia Afanaseva opened the competition with a solid but unspectacular routine. Next up was Jordyn Wieber, who stepped out of bounds during her routine, a mistake that cost her a shot at winning a medal. However we did see flashes of Wieber's brio and power. Wieber once again showed commendable grace, hiding her disappointment at a poor score and immediately shouting support for her teammate, Raisman.
Raisman proceeded to give a master class in floor gymnastics—a dynamic, powerful performance of athletic tumbles and high somersaults. She nailed her landings after each pass perfectly. The crowd roared to acclaim on completion of her routine. When she was rewarded a massive 15.600, it appeared her team gold would have a twin and it was likely she would leave London as the most successful gymnast with two golds and a bronze.
The unfortunate Ponor was next-up. She put aside her disappointment of losing to Raisman on the beam and delivered a beautifully interpretative performance of dance and athleticism. It was a typically Romanian gymnastic routine of grace and poise and it looked like Raisman had serious competition for gold. Cue an anxious wait for the score as the two rivals went head to head again. The crowd groaned when Ponor was awarded a score of only 15.200. Ponor’s performance lacked the dynamism of Raisman’s but now it looked like she might not even medal with some serious competition still to come.
Vanessa Ferrari and Lauren Mitchell never appeared to threaten the top two, both in turn briefly occupying the bronze medal position. Mustafina once again delivered a quality routine, which was good enough to earn bronze but not nearly dynamic or exciting enough to dislodge the top two. She leaves London as the highest-medalled gymnast with gold in the uneven bars, bronze on floor, bronze in the all-round and silver in the team competition.
Then it was down to the 2008 floor champion Sandra Raluca Izbasa to try to prise the gold medal from Raisman. The 24-year-old Romanian had recovered from a serious injury to compete in London to retain her crown.
She started her routine beautifully, tumbling gracefully, moving with the elegance of a ballerina. Then on the very last somersault she landed on her knees. Izbasa smiled wryly. She is another gymnast who has encountered the vicissitudes of the sport. On Sunday, she saw the brilliant vaulter McKayla Maroney make one error on landing that handed her an unexpected gold. Today, she was the gymnast to make that mistake—that in a sport of tiny margins in catastrophic.
Raisman knew she had won gold and Team USA—the indomitable force in women’s gymnastics during this Olympics—finished on a well-deserved high.