LONDON, England (AFP) — China bounced back to defend their Olympic men’s team gymnastics title yesterday as hosts Great Britain snatched a historic bronze medal — missing out on silver to Japan after a judges’ inquiry.
Having ranked sixth in qualifying, China appeared to have lost the lustre that saw them dominate on home soil in Beijing four years ago, but they rediscovered their poise to claim a third Olympic team crown in four attempts.
“We don’t make any mistakes,” said team member Feng Zhe.
“That’s the secret to beating Japan and everyone else. In previous competitions we’ve made mistakes, but tonight we didn’t make any.”
A messy dismount from superstar Kohei Uchimura on the pommel horse initially saw Japan finish fourth, but they successfully appealed against his score, dropping Britain down to third and leaving fuming Ukraine empty-handed.
“To start with, it was an incorrect mark for Japan,” explained Uchimura, who is the overwhelming favourite for the individual all-around gold.
“I couldn’t say or think anything. I just thought, it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Even when the mark was changed, I was not too happy.”
It provided a chaotic end to proceedings at London’s North Greenwich Arena, but Britain were nonetheless able to celebrate a first medal in the team event since their bronze at Stockholm 1912.
“I didn’t think we’d ever be standing here with a medal in the team event,” admitted Britain’s Louis Smith.
“This means so much. And our competitions haven’t even finished yet. It’s a beautiful day for the sport in British gymnastics.”
With Princes William and Harry watching from the stands, Britain thought they had pipped Japan to silver, but although the Japanese appeal cut short their celebrations, the blow was far harder to take for Ukraine.
Supreme in qualifying, the United States never recovered from a poor start on the floor and the pommel horse and finished in fifth place, with Russia sixth, Germany seventh, and France eighth.
Backed by a superb 15.966 routine from Beijing bronze medallist Smith, Britain made an assured start on the pommel horse and were in second place behind Ukraine after the first rotation.
China were sixth after the first rotation, but they stormed back on the vault with Zou Kai, Zhang Chenglong and Feng Zhe all registering scores above 15.900.
United States struggled on the pommel horse, Danell Leyva falling off and John Orozco miscuing his routine to leave last year’s World Championship bronze medallists in sixth place.
Britain seized the initiative on the vault, as Kristian Thomas earned a massive score of 16.550 with a double piked Yurchenko that prompted a deafening roar from the crowd and left the hosts in third place.
A faultless showing on the parallel bars meant that China led from Japan at the halfway stage, while the USA, so impressive in qualifying, languished in last place.
China hammered home their advantage on the high bar, Zou top-scoring with 16.400 after a routine that wowed the crowd, while the USA’s woes continued on the vault, as Orozco and Samuel Mikulak miscued.
Having fallen from the high bar in qualifying, Uchimura produced a supreme routine that earned him a score of 15.733, but China led their Asian rivals by over two points after four rotations.
Britain’s medal hopes took a hit when Sam Oldham fell from the high bar in the fifth rotation, allowing Ukraine to leapfrog them into third place.
Zou’s 15.833 floor routine galvanised China’s grip on gold and they avoided any mishaps on the pommel to complete victory.
Britain began their last rotation 0.248 points behind Ukraine, but nerveless floor routines from Daniel Purvis (15.533) and Thomas (15.433) saw them steal into third place and claim a first team medal in 100 years.