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Nothing gold can stay: Maroney guilty of first U.S. slip-up

By Michael Rushton, Olympics Writer

London, England (Sports Network) - It was bound to happen, someone on the U.S. women's gymnastics team finally committing that costly error. They couldn't stay flawless forever.

Heck, prior to Sunday's vault final, the only real drama the team had to deal with was the fact that reigning all-around world champion Jordyn Wieber did not qualify for the final of that event.

But even that was through no fault of her own. Wieber finished with the fourth-best score in qualifying, but did not advance into the competition simply due to a rule that states no country can have more than two gymnasts compete in the event.

That debate came to a respite when Wieber and the rest of the team put together an outstanding performance to win the team gold, the first for the U.S. since 1996.

After Gabby Douglas won the all-around gold a few days ago, it created a surge of momentum that made it an almost forgone conclusion that McKayla Maroney would follow suit in Sunday's vault final.

The vault proved to be one of USA's biggest strengths on its march to team gold and Maroney, the reigning world champion on the apparatus, had been a major part in that. She had the top qualifying score in the event at 15.800 and notched a 16.233 in the team event on Tuesday.

Amanar or Yurchenko, it didn't matter. The 16-year-old was sticking all of them.

Until Sunday.

Maroney pulled off the difficult Amanar -- two-and-a-half twists with a back somersault -- with grace and little difficulty, only committing a slight hop on the landing for a score of 15.866. That had her in the driver's seat, but the steady teen saw a literal slip-up on her second vault.

After finishing off her Yurchenko, Maroney hit the mat on her heels and fell backwards. Her inability to stick the landing cost her, earning her a score of 14.300 on that attempt and a total of 15.083.

"I'm really disappointed with myself. I fell on the second vault and I don't think I've ever even fallen in warmup here at all. It's a big shock and it's really sad. All I can look forward to is the next competition coming up and I just have to accept that I have a silver medal and that's not too bad," said Maroney, who competed in only the vault during the team final.

Romania's Sandra Raluca Izbasa took her turn as the final gymnast of the event and stuck two solid vaults for a score of 15.191, 0.108 better than Maroney.

Russian Maria Paseka, the runner up to Izbasa at the 2012 European vault championships, grabbed bronze with a score of 15.050, while 37-year-old German and 2008 Beijing Games vault silver medalist Oksana Chusovitina finished fifth.

Though Maroney failed to become the first American to win the gold in the Olympic vault competition, she did join Mary Lou Retton (1984) and Annia Hatch (2004) as silver medalists.

"My coach immediately said, 'There goes your gold medal,' so I kind of knew it was gone," added Maroney, who competed in the London Games despite aggravating a previous toe fracture. "It was just kind of hard to accept even though I knew it was gone."

Great Britain's Louis Smith probably had trouble accepting his results in Sunday's pommel horse event after missing out on gold because of a tiebreaker.

The Brit had posted the best qualifying score and on Sunday logged a mark of 16.066. That was even with Krisztian Berki, but the Hungarian and reigning world champion took gold due to a 0.100 higher reward in execution.

"Gymnastics will remain like this for a long time and you have to take it with a pinch of salt," said Smith of losing out despite the tie. "If you watch it back on slow motion, you'll usually see the best athlete won. But it's been great to have Great Britain second and third on the podium."

Smith's teammate Max Whitlock was a distant third, besting Italian Alberto Busnari by 0.200 to take the bronze.

Berki and Smith both attempted the most difficult routines on the pommel horse, making it a two-gymnast race. In the end, Berki became Hungary's fifth Olympic gold medal winner in this event, matching a record set by the Soviet Union.

He is the first Hungarian to win gold in this event since 1988.

Smith, a bronze medalist in this event at the 2008 Beijing Games, was aiming to become Great Britain's first Olympic gold winner at any artistic gymnastics event. But he and his teammates won't walk away disappointed, not after Smith's second-place finish on Sunday and Great Britain grabbing its first medal -- a bronze -- in the team event since 1912.

"Our sport is different to other sports. If we needed to feed off the crowd to go faster, it'd be different. But I'm being judged and to be judged worthy of a silver medal at the Olympic Games is fantastic," said Smith. "Coming so close to gold is hard, but I like to look at the positives, and it's been historic for gymnastics in both Great Britain and Hungary. It's been a great day for the sport."

China contributed to the milestones when Zou Kai became only the second athlete to win the men's Olympic floor exercise twice after successfully defending his title on Sunday.

Zou won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games in this event and came in with the top qualifying score of 15.833. He bettered that mark to win the gold, nailing a 9.033 execution score while posting the second-highest difficulty score. He totaled 15.933, topping Japan's Kohei Uchimura, the reigning world champ, by 0.133.

Only the Soviet Union's Nikolai Andrianov had won this event twice before Zou, doing so in 1972 and '76. Zou also gave China its fourth gold in this event, matching the Soviet Union's record.

Zou earned his second gold of these Summer Games after China also won the men's team competition. The 24-year-old also grabbed three golds in Beijing and cited his experience in the sport as a reason for his success.

"I started gymnastics when I was four. Between four and nine years, I only did it recreational. I started with full time gymnastics when I was nine," he noted.

Russia's Denis Ablyazin took bronze despite matching Uchimura's score. Uchimura, who won the all-around gold medal at the London Games, earned the tiebreaker with a higher execution score over Ablyazin, posting a 9.100 mark to the Russian's 8.700.

It marked the third medal of these games for Uchimura, the first Japanese gymnast of either sex to accomplish that feat since 1984.

The United States' Jacob Dalton finished fifth with a score of 15.333.

08/05 13:51:22 ET


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