LONDON (Reuters) - It was carnival time for Brazil’s Arthur Zanetti on Monday while South Korea’s Yang Hak-seon adopted the London Games’ motto to “Inspire a Generation” as the duo sparked joyous celebrations by handing their nations their first-ever Olympic gymnastics golds.
There were no Samba beats or hip-shaking action to get the crowd going at the North Greenwich Arena, instead those clad in green and yellow were left dancing and singing down the aisles as Zanetti snatched gold on the rings ahead of 2008 champion Chen Yibing of China.
So unexpected was his win over Yibing, most fans did not even note Zanetti’s shock triumph until there was an almighty commotion in a small corner of the 15,500 capacity arena.
The 22-year-old gymnast rushed into the arms of his supporters the moment his score of 15.900 flashed up while his overwhelmed coach was seen wiping away tears as he realized his charge had pipped Chen by 0.1 of a point.
The victory not only earned Zanetti a gold medal but with Rio hosting the 2016 Olympics, he can expect to be a poster boy for the Games for the next four years.
“I‘m very happy, it’s the very first Olympic medal for Brazil in gymnastics so I‘m really happy with this,” he told reporters after standing on the podium biting into the medal.
Chen, known as the “Lord of the Rings”, has stood on top of the podium at every major competition, bar once, since 2006, winning four world titles and the 2008 Beijing crown.
Bizarrely the only time he failed to grab gold was at the 2009 world championships which were held at the same North Greenwich Arena.
On Monday, he looked confident as soon as he completed his dismount. He held aloft his index finger, kissed it and then let out an almighty roar before running off to kiss the red metal frame of the apparatus.
When his score came up, the wagging index finger was on show again, this time accompanied by a wink into camera.
Last up was Zanetti and when he took a hop back on landing, the grin on Chen’s face could not have got any wider.
That is until the final score flashed up.
“I‘m surprised he took gold because his landing wasn’t great,” shrugged Chen, who signed off from the international arena after adding a silver medal to his three Olympic golds.
Britain’s Beth Tweddle, 27, was one veteran who was not disappointed as she capped a decade-long career by grabbing bronze in the asymmetric bars final.
She finished behind Russian champion Aliya Mustafina, who earned 16.133, and 2008 Chinese winner He Kexin but the color of the medal did not matter to the woman who 12 weeks ago thought her Olympic dreams were all but over after she needed knee surgery.
“I‘m over the moon. It was the one that was missing from my collection, I wasn’t bothered what color it was,” said Britain’s most decorated gymnast with three world titles but who agonizingly finished fourth in Beijing.
“I saw myself in third and I thought ‘Please don’t be fourth again.’ I just can’t put into words what it means to me.”
Tweddle became Britain’s first individual female gymnast to win an Olympic medal.
She was also the country’s first female gymnastics winner to attend a medals ceremony after a 1928 British women’s team that won a bronze at the Amsterdam Games were too cash-strapped to stay an extra night to attend the presentation ceremony. They received their medals later.
There was no chance South Korea’s Yang would miss out on his moment under the spotlight after he lived up to his billing with two jaw-dropping high-flying vaults.
The 19-year-old world champion earned an average score of 16.533 from his two vaults, edging out Russia’s Denis Ablyazin on 16.399 and Ukraine’s Igor Radivilov.
Yang powered down the 20-metre runway and launched into his signature triple-twisting front somersault, which is now named after him.
The “oohs and aahhs” that accompanied his soaring flight through the air were replaced by stunned gasps as he almost ran off the mat on landing.
But so high was the difficulty of the leap, with a D-score of 7.400 which was 0.2 higher than any of the jumps performed by his rivals, he still drew 16.466.
Yang then trumped that effort with a triple twisting Tsukahara and went off on a victory lap long before his second score of 16.600 flashed up.
“I can’t believe this has happening to me at the moment,” a beaming Yang told reporters through a translator.
”We haven’t had a gold medal in Olympic gymnastics before so I was nervous. But I‘m happy that I got over that and won the gold medal.
“Gymnastics is not a very popular sport in Korea but I want to inspire a new generation. I hope younger people will look at me and have a bit more confidence to go into gymnastics.”
Additional reporting by Clare Fallon, editing by Jason Neely