LONDON (Reuters) - The ear-to-ear smile of 16-year-old American Gabby Douglas and the tears of Russian Victoria Komova told the story of Olympic triumph and heartbreak in the women’s all-around gymnastics on Thursday.
As Douglas waved presidentially to family, friends and team mates cheering her coronation as the new first lady of gymnastics, Komova slumped into a chair and pressed her hands to her face to try to stem the tears that flowed for the loss of the gold medal.
Not satisfied with silver, world champion Komova removed the medal from around her neck between leaving the awards ceremony and getting to the exit door of North Greenwich Arena’s competition hall.
“It was too heavy,” she told waiting reporters via a translator, saying the medal had been consigned to the pocket of her red-and-white track suit.
Douglas, meanwhile, had barely stopped grinning since the giant scoreboard suspended in the middle of North Greenwich Arena had flashed up her new status.
“It just feels amazing to be called the Olympic champion; I‘m so honored to be named that,” said the talkative teenager dubbed the “Flying Squirrel” for the shape she makes on her favorite apparatus, the asymmetric bars.
Douglas bounced down from the floor with a huge smile after finishing the evening with a storming routine which had the crowd clapping along. Komova, last up, thought she had done enough to overhaul the American but the scoreboard showed otherwise.
A tiebreak settled the bronze medal, with Russian Aliya Mustafina far happier with her lot than Komova after beating American Aly Raisman on a tally of their best three of the four apparatus scores.
In the space of five months, Douglas has upset the gymnastics order in the world and at home. Allowed to compete unofficially at the American Cup in March, she outscored all the established women. In the U.S. trials last month, she pipped world all-around champion Jordyn Wieber to top spot for London.
Wieber, who came to London with high hopes, was reduced to a spectator on Thursday even though she had the fourth-best qualifying score for the final. With Douglas and Raisman above her, she fell foul of a rule that states that no country can put more than two gymnasts into the all-around.
With Wieber out, Komova, who took silver behind the American at last October’s world championships in Tokyo, went into Thursday’s event confident that she could get a gold to make up for Russia’s second place behind the U.S. in the team event - another outcome that produced a flood of tears.
Douglas, though, led from the start with a bit of luck on the vault. Though she hopped sideways slightly on landing, all her rivals did worse, with Komova ending up right off the mat.
Raisman banged her foot on one of the asymmetric bars, slipped to fifth place and began to look worried but, with Douglas and Komova clearly dueling for the gold, she got a sliver of bronze hope when her group progressed to the beam.
Mustafina, the 2010 world all-around champion, fell after attempting a twisting somersault and wobbled through the rest of the routine, looking miserable as she dismounted and scoring a low 13.633.
Raisman knew she could seize the upper hand but it was not to be. She managed to just save herself from toppling off the end of the beam, then wobbled badly on a spin.
In the final floor exercise, world bronze medalist Raisman outscored Mustafina but not by enough. The two women finished on equal points and the tiebreak rule gave the bronze to Mustafina.
The Russian, who has come back from knee surgery last year, can go home and compare her bronze medal with the one won by her father, Farhat Mustafin, who collected his for Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
China’s Deng Linlin and Huang Quishuang finished sixth and seventh respectively, while Romanian team bronze medalist Sandra Izbasa was fifth despite the day’s best score on the floor.
Hannah Whelan, competing at her home Olympics, ended the day in tears and in last place after falling face-first from the vault on her third rotation and getting a zero score.
The day, though, belonged entirely to Douglas, with her coach Liang Chow basking in more Olympic success after helping Shawn Johnson to win all-around silver at the Beijing Games.
U.S. team co-ordinator Marta Karolyi confessed that, 10 days ago, she had harbored serious doubts about Douglas’s ability to compete because she was not concentrating.
”I talked to Chow and said: ‘We have to address that. Have a good talk with her, we have to turn her around because she’s going in the wrong direction.’ She just wasn’t able to focus so much.
“We addressed that with her and she reacted very nicely and next day she worked excellent and everything went in a straight line from there.”
Whatever Karolyi and Chow said to the teenager, it worked. If Douglas keeps her focus, she could collect more gold in the finals of the asymmetric bars and the beam on Monday and Tuesday. London, it seems, has not seen the last of that smile just yet.
Additional reporting by Steve Keating and Annika Breidthard; Editing by Pritha Sarkar