LONDON — Aliya Mustafina couldn’t take her eyes off the scoreboard, staring it with pride and delight.
She capped an impressive comeback from a serious knee injury with the gold on uneven bars Monday, while Beth Tweddle finally got an Olympic medal, winning the bronze. It was Russia’s first gold in women’s gymnastics, and gave Mustafina a complete set after her silver in the team competition and bronze in the all-around.
American Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around gymnastics title last week, finished eighth.
Earlier Monday, Arthur Zanetti gave Brazil its first gymnastics medal, a gold, on still rings by upsetting Chen Yibing, the “Lord of the Rings,” who won gold in Beijing and four of the last five world titles.
Mustafina displayed a dominance rarely seen in gymnastics at the 2010 world championships, winning medals in all but one event, including the all-around gold. She was so much better than everyone else a similar haul was expected in London.
But Mustafina blew out her left ACL at the European championships in April 2011, putting her chances of simply competing in London in doubt. Mustafina, however, is not one to be messed with, and she was back in competition by the end of the year. She wasn’t anywhere close to her best, though, and was downright dismal at this year’s Europeans.
On this day, however, she was dazzling.
Her uneven bars routine is packed with so many difficult skills it leaves her gasping for air by the time she’s finished. But she makes them look easy, flipping and floating from one bar to another. Her execution is exquisite, her toes perfectly pointed, her legs razor straight.
When she landed, she threw up her hands in triumph and turned on a megawatt smile. When her score of 16.133 flashed, her coach picked her up in a bear hug, and chants of “ROSS-EE-YAH!” (Russia) rang out.
Only Douglas was left. The slim chance she had at a medal ended when she stalled on a handstand.
Tweddle might have given Mustafina a real run for the gold, but she landed low on her dismount and had to take two steps back to steady herself. She knew it would cost her big, running her hands over her hair before she climbed off the podium.
But after her disappointment four years ago, any medal is as good as gold for Tweddle. It is the first medal in women’s gymnastics for the British, and gives them four at these Olympics.
Not bad for a country that qualified full men’s and women’s teams for the first time since 1984.
Tweddle was the inspiration for the British renaissance, becoming the first British woman to win a medal at the world championships in 2003. Three years later, she gave Britain its first world title, on uneven bars, and has added two more (floor in 2009, uneven bars in 2010) since then.
But she had yet to win an Olympic medal, missing the bronze in Beijing by 0.025. The result devastated her, and she briefly considered retiring. Having the Olympics in her own country was too appealing to pass up, and the 27-year-old upgraded her uneven bars routine so she wouldn’t come up short again.
When the final standings were announced, she grabbed a British flag and held it aloft. China’s He Kexin, the gold medalist in Beijing, was second.
Zanetti grandly kicked off the party for the Rio de Janeiro Games with his gold.
Chen has been dubbed the “Lord of the Rings,” so dominant since 2006 that when he saluted the crowd with his index finger held high in the air during introductions, it wasn’t a sign of arrogance. In addition to his gold medal from Beijing, he’s won four of the last five world titles, and no one even came close most of the time.
He seemed certain his routine Monday would be good enough for gold, kissing his index finger and holding it aloft again.
Chen had such control that when he flipped and twisted, the cables barely swayed. When he pressed into a plank, his back was ironing-board straight.
But there were a few slight flaws, too: a back that was a little too arched on a handstand, a wiggle on a press.
Minor details, but it left room for Zanetti, who’d won the silver medal at last year’s world championships.
Going last, Zanetti was just a little stronger. When he did an iron cross, suspended in the air with his arms extended, even some fans winced. He held his strength positions for what seemed like hours, the only sign of exertion was the bulging veins in his arms and neck. He had a small step on his dismount, but it hardly mattered.
His jaw dropped when he saw his score, and the small group of Brazilian fans in the stands above him began dancing, singing and waving their flag. Zanetti beamed as he stood on the podium, chewing on his bottom lip and watching proudly as the Brazilian flag rose.