Gymnastics concluded tonight at the Beijing Olympics.
Men took the floor first on the parallel bars, where China dominated in the form of Li Xiaopeng. South Korea’s Yoo Won-Chultook silver and Uzbekistan’s Anton Fokintook bronze. Fokin became the first gymnast to ever win a medal for Uzbekistan. After all the men had received their scores, Fokin raised his hand in the air and made a one with his index finger, showing that even if he came in third, he still considered himself a champion.
That moment definitively embodied the Olympics for me. During the course of watching the games, little things often make me contemplate the larger meaning and the spirit of the Olympics. Fokin’s pride in himself and gratitude for placing, regardless of what metal his medal is made of, perfectly demonstrated the sportsmanship and honor the Olympics should bestow on its athletes.
Nastia, Shawn, Cheng Fei and others were the next competitors in the lineup. The girls competed for the balance beam title, and 16-year-old Shawn Johnson reigned supreme. Cheng Fei of China set the bar at an impressive height as the first competitor when she earned a 15.950. Comepetitors failed to top her score until Johnson, a native of Iowa, received a 16.225. Teammate Nastia Liukin followed with a 16.025. Both Johnson and Liukin delivered stunning routines with hardly any errors and rightly deserved gold and silver, respectively.
The 4’9″ Johnson stood on the top podium for the first time. She adds her gold medal to a collection of three silvers. Nastia accepted her fifth medal and third silver; she also has a gold and a bronze. Cheng Fei took her second bronze, which she complements with a gold from the team competition.
Thank God the judges were back on track. The two best routines won medals. Both Johnson and Liukin were solid and clean, except when each took a step to balance her dismount. Johnson gained an edge with her power and supreme balance; while Liukin was more graceful, she did not deliver the same dynamic force and confidence Johnson brought to the beam. Cheng Fei deserved third for her solid routine. None of the other competitors seemed to even be in contention for the medals.
Johnson smiled broadly and made a number one sign directly into the American television cameras, and she stood wide-eyed and serious on the tallest podium. Her parents sobbed as they embraced, and teammate Liukin and coach Liang Chow hugged and congratulated her. Although only a few years younger than the other medal-winners, seeing the 16-year-old Johnson win gold seemed more extraordinary than any of the other individual event finals. Perhaps it’s because Johnson is so small and so smiley, or perhaps it’s because I know she’s the minimum age to compete, but watching her win was one of the most special medal ceremonies so far.
The men’s horizontal bar finished the night. Zou Kai of China won, and I don’t think anyone was surprised. The surprises came from Jonathan Horton, a 22-year-old American, and Fabian Hambüchen, a 20-year-old German. Horton altered his routine to include more difficult releases, which he hoped would give him an advantage over his Chinese opponents. Horton celebrated as soon as he dismounted and was more than happy to received a silver. Hambüchen delivered a solid performance after several disappointments in Beijing.
Horton’s releases were incredible. I was not expecting to see anything like that from him. I was also glad to see Hambüchen win a medal. He has been a familiar face on the men’s lineup but never seemed to be able to grasp first, second or third. Zou Kai, who beat Horton for first by 0.025 of a point, had the advantage over both due to his technical skill hometown advantage.
Overall, a fair showing from the judges and a great conclusion for the Beijing gymnastics.