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Perseverance pays off for Mustafina, Tweddle

By Michael Rushton, Olympics Writer

London, England (Sports Network) - There had to be times when Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina wondered if it was no longer worth it.

A left knee injury suffered during the spring of last year prevented her from defending her all-around title at the 2011 World Championships and the London Games weren't shaping up to be as successful as she had hoped.

A silver medal in the team competition was nice, but it wasn't gold. Nor was the bronze Mustafina took last week in the individual all-around event.

But slowly the confidence returned for the 17-year-old and it all came together on Monday when she won the women's uneven bars, soaring past defending Olympic champion He Kexin of China and local favorite, Great Britain's Elizabeth Tweddle.

"When I won the bronze medal I became more confident that I could overcome my injury and do better," said Mustafina.

She admitted thinking about quitting at times, even if it was only for a moment. Those involved with Russian gymnastics are glad she didn't after previously coming up short in London. In addition to the second-place team finish and Mustafina's bronze, teammate Victoria Komova had to settle for silver -- and tears yet again -- when she finished behind only American Gabby Douglas in the all-around.

Mustafina finally added gold to that count as the only gymnast in Monday's competition to score higher than 9 in execution while posting a total score of 16.133. She earned Russia's first Olympic gold on the apparatus since Svetlana Khorkina in 1996 and 2000.

"Absolutely, I did not. I did not believe I could do it. I was nowhere near in the shape I am now," Mustafina said of her expectations six months ago. "Making myself work for it and pushing through. Sometimes I did (feel like giving up) but these urges left me quickly."

While the lack of gold medals had been bothering the Russians, a bronze was more than enough for Tweddle, the top qualifier who posted a score of 15.916 on Monday.

A big step back on her landing to conclude what was an excellent routine kept Tweddle from claiming Britain's first ever individual Olympic gold in female gymnastics, but the 27-year-old still ended her career at the games with her first medal.

The closest she had come was a fourth place finish on the uneven bars at the 2008 Beijing Games.

"It was the one that was missing from my collection, I wasn't bothered what color it was. 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. My routine went pretty good, I only had a step with my dismount. If you would ask me if I want to go again, then I would say no," said Tweddle, who earlier this year wasn't even sure she would be able to compete in London because of a knee surgery.

"It is my third Olympics, everyone knows I wanted this one medal to be able to finish my career happy. This was the one thing that was missing."

While Tweddle, who said she definitely won't compete in the 2016 Rio Games, had a routine she will never forget, Douglas could not continue the magic from team and all-around gold. She qualified sixth for the event, but finished in last place with a score of 14.900. Her difficulty mark of 6.300 was the lowest among all eight competitors.

Komova, the 2011 world champion, also suffered a misstep on her landing and finished fifth behind China's Yao Jinnan.

While Mustafina had to wait a few routines to confirm she won gold, scoreboard watching was useless in the two men's finals held Monday. Both were won by the last gymnast of the event.

The first of the day saw Brazilian Arthur Nabarrete Zanetti score a narrow victory over China's Chen Yibing to claim gold in the men's rings final.

The field faced a tough task of trying to unseat Chen, the 2008 Olympic champion, after he started things off with a score of 15.800. In fact, nobody topped the four-time world champ until Nabarrete Zanetti posted a 15.900 score to close the competition.

"I think I already did my best -- what I've been training for. When (Nabarrete Zanetti's) score came up I was a little disappointed because the landing of the Brazilian wasn't great. But I have to congratulate him because he did very well," conceded Chen.

Nabarrete Zanetti qualified fourth for this event with the highest execution score but had the lowest marks in difficulty among the eight gymnasts. However, he matched Chen's difficulty score on Monday at 6.800 and was one of three gymnasts to score at least a 9 in execution.

The 22-year-old, who had finished second to Chen in the 2011 World Championships, claimed Brazil's first ever Olympic gymnastics medal.

"I'm very happy, I was the last gymnast to compete and I stayed calm and took my moment," said Nabarrete Zanetti.

Nabarrete Zanetti's performance knocked Italian Matteo Morandi into the bronze position with a score of 15.733.

Participating in his sixth Olympic Games -- the most ever by a male gymnast -- 39-year-old Iordan Iovtchev of Bulgaria finished seventh.

China has defended two of its gold medals from Beijing, repeating as team champion before Zou Kai won his second straight Olympic title on the floor exercise Sunday.

Russia's Denis Ablyazin knows how Chen feels. He was leading the vault final before South Korea's Yang Hak Seon stuck an excellent pair of landings -- including one that was judged to be the most difficult of the competition -- to claim gold.

Ablyazin had taken the top spot with a total score of 16.399 -- the average of his two vaults -- before Yang scored 16.466 in his first attempt, a total that included an event-high 7.400 score for difficulty.

The 2011 world champion took it down a notch in his second vault, but lifted his execution score and totaled 16.600, giving him a gold-winning score of 16.533. That was 0.200 points higher than his qualifying score, which ranked second coming in.

"In the first vault I got a very good score and for the second I had a really good landing so I was pretty confident," said Yang.

Yang became the first Korean to win the event and the first to medal since Yeo Hong-Chul's silver in 1996.

Ablyazin ended in second after coming in with the top qualifying mark, while Ukraine's Igor Radivilov won bronze with a score of 16.316.

"I knew (Yang) would win the gold, but I still hoped for gold. However, I didn't get upset when I saw the score from Korea, I was prepared for silver. I'm satisfied with my performance at these Olympics," said Ablyazin.

Chile's Enrique Tomas Gonzalez Sepulveda had the highest execution score in qualifying, but finished fourth, over a point ahead of fifth-place American Samuel Mikulak.

08/06 13:13:01 ET


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