London 2012 Olympics: China win three golds, Zonderland wows the crowd

AP, LONDON

Thu, Aug 09, 2012 - Page 19

China dominated gymnastics on Tuesday as Deng Linlin won the gold on the balance beam, upstaging teammate and reigning world champion Sui Lu shortly after Feng Zhe took gold on the parallel bars.

Epke Zonderland won gold on the high bar, the first medal for a Dutch man and only the second Olympic medal overall for the Netherlands.

Aly Raisman of the US took a gold in the floor exercise, about an hour after getting a bronze on the balance beam. It was the first Olympic gold on the floor for an American woman.

“It was definitely the best floor routine that I’ve ever done,” Raisman said. “To have it be at the Olympic Games, in the finals, is just really amazing and just a dream come true. That’s what you work for your whole life.”

She won the balance beam bronze after questioning her score when she initially finished fourth. Judges added an extra 10th to her routine’s difficulty after reviewing it. That gave her and Romania’s Catalina Ponor identical scores of 15.066, but Raisman got the bronze and Ponor got bumped because the American’s execution score was higher.

Meanwhile, Gabby Douglas failed to add to her medal haul, finishing seventh on the balance beam after a fall. Still, she will leave the London Olympics with two gold medals, including the all-around title, gymnastics’ biggest prize.

“I’m so happy, going home with two Olympic gold medals and a couple of titles under my belt,” Douglas said. “I’m so happy for Aly, she deserves to be up on that podium.”

Energized by her surprise bronze on the beam, Raisman’s floor routine had an extra spark. Her tumbling passes were some of the most difficult and she got such great height on them you could have parked a double-decker bus beneath her. Her landings were not only secure, one was so powerful it practically shook the floor.

Coach Mihai Brestyan was hopping up and down, and pumping his fist as she finished, and even Raisman was impressed with herself, mouthing “wow” after she saluted the judges.

When her score, a 15.6, was posted, teammate McKayla Maroney yelled “whoa” so loudly from the stands it could be heard across the arena.

“I felt like I had nothing to lose,” Raisman said. “It was going to be my last memory for London, so I just wanted to make it count and enjoy it.”

On the parallel bars, Feng gave the Chinese men their third gymnastics gold medal, following the team competition and Zou Kai’s win in the floor exercise, and they may not be finished, with Zou still to come on the high bar, where he is the reigning world and Olympic champion.

Feng flashed a thumbs-up as he walked out for the medals ceremony and planted a big kiss on the gold medal after he got it.

Germany’s Marcel Nguyen was second, adding another silver to his one from the men’s all-around. Hamilton Sabot of France won the bronze.

Feng’s routine was filled with intricate combinations, yet he did them with the precision of an artist and the rhythm of a musician. He held his handstands for what seemed like forever, looking like a statue, and there was not even the slightest hesitation as he went from one skill straight into another.

He hit the mat with a thud on his dismount and was pumping his fists even before he stood upright. He threw a roundhouse punch as he trotted off the podium and his coach wrapped him in a big hug, pounding his back.

When his score of 15.966 was posted, Feng, the 2010 world champion on the parallel bars, nodded.

There were still six gymnasts still to come, but it would take something pretty special to top Feng and no one came close.

European champion Nguyen’s routine was impressive, but he took a hop forward on his dismount and needed to windmill his arms to steady himself.

Zonderland has long been one of the world’s best on the high bar, his routine better than any circus act, and all that was missing was an Olympic medal.

No longer.

He opened his routine with three straight release moves, not even pausing to catch his breath before tossing himself high into the air again. It was high risk, high reward, and the crowd loved it, oohing and aahing as he flew so high he could have waved into the overhead camera.

He was a blur as he pirouetted on the bar, yet never looked as if he was on the verge of going out of control.

When he hit the mat, he let out a roar.

Jonathan Horton of the US, up next, could only laugh and shake his head, knowing there was no way he — or anyone — could top that show.

He was right, with Zonderland scoring a 16.533 — a number not usually seen outside the vault. Zonderland broke into a grin when he saw the mark and pointed at the scoreboard.

It was the Netherlands’ first gymnastics medal since 1928, when the women’s team won gold.