After team and all-around medals were attributed, it was finally time for event specialists to shine on their favorite apparatuses. With event finals distributed throughout three days (unlike the usual two), new champions were crowned, while others managed to hold on to their past titles.
Starting with the men’s floor exercise, 2013 and 2015 World Champion Kenzo Shirai was the clear favorite with his 7.6-difficulty routine. However mistakes on some of his landings pushed him down to fourth less than a tenth away from the podium. The gold medal eventually went to Britain’s Max Whitlock after a solid routine with correct form and controlled landings on all of his passes, giving him a score of 15.633 and Britain’s first ever Olympic Gold medal in gymnastics. Taking the Silver medal one tenth behind Whitlock was Brazilian floor specialist Diego Hypolito after a very confident and emotional performance that included some unusual skills and combinations such as a double arabian to front tucked full and a double arabian piked. Another tenth behind was Hypolito’s teammate Arthur Nory taking the bronze medal after one of the best routines of his career that included a piked double front to front tuck and a double twisting double back piked. After such an accomplishment, both Brazilian gymnasts were visibly emotional, crying and hugging each other and their coaches, while their crowd celebrated and cheered for them quite loudly. In fourth place was Kenzo Shirai of Japan with a 15.366 after very low landings on his front full to front triple twist and 2.5 twist to front 2.5 twist, taking several steps forward to keep himself from falling. Right behind him was All-Around Champion Kohei Uchimura, also from Japan, with 15.241 after a low landing on his double double and a hop out-of-bounds on his first tumble, followed by Jake Dalton of the USA with 15.133 after sizeable hops on most of his tumbles. The last two athletes in this final were Kristian Thomas of Great Britain in seventh place despite having the highest execution score among all the finalists (his low difficulty just couldn’t compete with the top contenders) and finally Sam Mikulak of the USA in eighth with 14.333 after out-of-bounds and landing issues, dropping almost 1.5 points from his qualifications score where he was the top qualifier with 15.800. Besides the loud cheering for the Brazilian athletes, the crowd also celebrated Mikulak’s mistakes knowing that would mean two medals for Brazil, in a similar fashion to what happened in other sports when Brazilian athletes were in strong contention for the podium. This was an unfortunate trend in this Olympic Games and I hope it won’t happen again in the future because all athletes deserve respect and cheering for your team to win shouldn’t mean cheering for your opponents to fail.
On the pommel horse final, the top two spots were basically a given for the two Brits in this final, with the big question being which between Whitlock and Louis Smith would take the Gold. In the end, Whitlock managed to retain his title from 2015 Worlds and repeat his result from the floor final, changing Britain’s history from no Olympic Gold in gymnastics to two Golds in less than an hour. Just like in London 2012, the Silver medal went to Smith after a very good routine that earned the highest execution score among all finalists but eventually was surpassed by Whitlock who had the superior difficulty (7.2 versus 6.9 D-score). Contrasting with his country’s issues on pommels, the Bronze went to Alex Naddour of the USA with a 15.700 after a very confident and precise performance, looking visibly emotional as the final results came in and confirmed his Olympic medal. In fourth place, scoring a tenth behind Naddour was 2014 Bronze medalist Cyril Tommasone of France after an over-arched handstand and some leg issues prevented him from a higher score. In fifth place was Russian David Belyavskiy with 15.400 due to slightly lower difficulty, while in sixth place was his teammate Nikolai Kuksenkov after not being able to do his usual dismount and in seventh place was Armenia’s Harutyun Merdinyan after a similar issue. In eighth and last place was AA Silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev with just 12. 400 after struggling on a handstand and hopping off and then having trouble with his dismount and failing to hit the vertical, missing requirements as well as losing difficulty. Despite his (usual) high difficulty, pommels was never the place where Oleg planned to medal and he seemed very relaxed about the final result, just shrugging his shoulders and moving on to focus on his other finals.
On August 15th the competition started with the rings final where the reigning World and European Champion Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece managed to add the Olympic title to his résumé after an incredible performance capped off with a stuck double double dismount that gave him a huge score of 16.000. The silver medal went to 2012 Olympic Champion Arthur Zanetti of Brazil after a very good routine with just a small hop on his full twisting double layout dismount for a 15.766, while the bronze medal went to Russia’s Denis Ablyazin less than a tenth behind after some wobbly handstands and a step on his double twisting double layout dismount. Just outside the podium was top qualifier Liu Yang of China with 15.600 after having to muscle up a handstand and taking a large step backwards on his full twisting double layout dismount, followed by Ukrainian Igor Radivilov with a score of 15.466 after a stuck double double dismount. In sixth place was Liu’s teammate You Hao after a very low landing on his double twisting double layout dismount, scoring a 15.400 despite having the highest difficulty among all the finalists, while Danny Pinheiro Rodrigues of France was seventh with a 15.233 and Dennis Goossens of Belgium was eighth with a 14.933, becoming the first Belgian gymnast to make an Olympic event final. Notably absent from this final were sixth place qualifier Samir Ait Said of France after a very serious injury on vault (compound fracture to his tibia and fibula), as well as eighth place qualifier Yuri van Gelder of the Netherlands after being suspended by his federation due to violation of the team rules when he went out drinking and spent the night out of the Olympic village. These are two very unfortunate albeit very different situations that marred this final but that’s what makes gymnastics such an unpredictable sport.
Right after the rings final (seriously, they had a break of about 20 minutes) the men moved on to the vault final where once again the reigning World Champion managed to take the Olympic title with Ri Se Gwang of North Korea scoring an average of 15.691 for his piked Dragulescu with a large step back and his nearly stuck eponymous vault (Tsukahara double tuck with full twist). The Silver medal went to Denis Ablyazin of Russia with a 15.516 after performing a quite low Ri Se Gwang vault with a large step forward and a Li Xiaopeng (Yurchenko half-on 2.5 twists off) with a sizeable step back, while the Bronze medal went to Kenzo Shirai of Japan after winning a tie-breaker against Marian Dragulescu of Romania when both of them averaged 15.449 but Shirai had the highest single vault score. Shirai debuted the Yurchenko 3.5 (expected to be named the Shirai II) with just some crossed legs in the air and a small step forward and performed a Tsukahara 2.5 twists with a small hop as his second vault. Fourth place finisher Dragulescu started with his own vault taking a large step back followed by a Li Xiaopeng with the tiniest of hops but it wasn’t enough to pass Shirai and he eventually lost the medal in a tie-breaker (flashbacks of Catalina Ponor in beam final of 2012). In fifth place, however, there was indeed a tie between Nikita Nagornyy of Russia and Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine with an average of 15.316 after both of them had the exact same vaults and the exact same scores (just switched the order). Nagornyy performed his Dragulescu with a large hop back and a Tsukahara triple twist with just a tiny step, while Verniaiev also presented a Dragulescu landed quite low but stuck and a Tsukahara triple twist with some messy legs and a large hop on the landing. In seventh place was Tomas Gonzalez of Chile after a somewhat low Tsukahara double pike and a Shewfelt (aka Amanar for the women) with a step forward, while in eighth place was Igor Radivilov of Ukraine after crashing his new handspring triple (!) front vault (he didn’t die so there’s that) and landing his Tsukahara double pike with a large step back. He was very brave to attempt the triple front but it unfortunately won’t be named after him since he didn’t compete it successfully (aka not falling) although he did get the credit for it. It will probably remain an unnamed skill.
The next day was time for bars: parallel bars and high bar. Starting with parallel bars, Oleg’s Olympic moment finally came taking home the Gold with a score of 16.041 after sticking his double front half dismount (where was that in AA finals?!) although he had some trouble on a few handstands. The Silver medal went to Oleg’s pbars BFF Danell Leyva of the USA after having the highest execution of the final (tied with Andrei Muntean) for a score of 15.900, while the Bronze medal went to Russia’s David Belyavskiy after having a very precise routine with just a small hop on his double front half dismount. In fourth place was 2015 Bronze medalist Deng Shudi of China, missing the podium by less than two hundredths after a wonky pirouette and a hop back on his double pike dismount, while in fifth place was Cuban Manrique Larduet with 15.625 after a huge leg form break right at the beginning of his routine. In sixth place was Romania’s Andrei Munteanu after a very correct performance that was held back by his lower difficulty (6.6 D-score), while in seventh was Ryohei Kato of Japan after several handstand issues and in eighth was reigning World Champion You Hao of China after sitting down his double front half dismount. Oleg didn’t have his most perfect routine and if not for his stuck dismount he probably wouldn’t have taken the Gold but this time all the stars were aligned and he finally stood at the top of podium. Personally I couldn’t be prouder of what he’s accomplished and I just hope he’ll continue to excel in the sport and win many medals in the near future.
Finishing up the event finals and the Olympic competition for artistic gymnastics was the high bar final with Fabian Hambuechen of Germany finally taking home the Gold with 15.766 after taking Bronze in 2008 and Silver in 2012. The Silver medal went to Danell Leyva of the USA with 15.500, going from alternate to most decorated American male gymnast and proving that you should never count Danell out when it comes to peaking at the right time. The Bronze medal belonged to Britain’s Nile Wilson after a solid routine capped off with a stuck double twisting double layout dismount, posting the highest execution score of the final but being held back a little by his (still very high) difficulty. In fourth place was USA’s Sam Mikulak with 15.400 after having his best high bar performance in ages with just a small hop on his double twisting double layout dismount, while in fifth was Francisco Barretto Junior of Brazil after a super hit routine finished with a stuck full twisting double layout dismount and in sixth was Manrique Larduet of Cuba after a solid performance but getting a bit hammered on execution. The last two spots were filled with gymnasts that unfortunately had fall in their routines with Epke Zonderland placing seventh after a quite serious fall on his Kovacs that knocked in momentarily unconscious and Oleg Verniaiev placing eighth after muscling a handstand and falling on his double twisting double layout dismount. Epke’s fall was the scary moment of the day but he got up and finished his routine without major problems, only noticing that he had been out for a few seconds when he later watched the routine in video. Epke is a doctor and I’m sure he wouldn’t have continued if he was aware he had been unconscious after the fall (as the dangers of a concussion are not to be dismissed) but fortunately he wasn’t seriously injured and finished his Olympic performance safely.
These event finals concluded yet another Olympic cycle for the male gymnasts and raised the bar even higher for the next quad. New champions were crowned and new stars came into the spotlight, while older athletes said goodbye to the sport and headed into new adventures in their lives. The Rio Olympics are now part of History and a new page is just about to start as we begin our road to Tokyo 2020.