LONDON – Their closest rivals were still on the floor competing when the Chinese whipped out five big gold stars and held them up in the shape of their flag.
The Chinese won their second consecutive Olympic title in men’s gymnastics and third in four games in a rout Monday, making fools of everyone who wrote them off after a dismal performance in qualifying.
“We don’t have any faults. That’s our secret to beat the Japanese and to beat everyone,” gymnast Zhang Chenglong said. “In preliminaries, we had a little bit of faults. But tonight was completely perfect.”
It took five minutes and a video review to sort out the silver and bronze medalists after Japan questioned the score of three-time world champion Kohei Uchimura on pommel horse, the last routine. Japan jumped from fourth to second after judges revised Uchimura’s score, bumping Britain down to bronze and Ukraine off the medals podium.
It was the British men’s first team medal in a century, and it set off raucous celebrations at the arena. Even Princes William and Harry joined in.
“To win a medal in your home games, I’ll take that any day,” gymnast Kristian Thomas said. “We never actually had the silver in our hands, so there’s no real disappointment.”
Tell that to the Japanese, who were bested by the Chinese yet again. Japan was the runner-up to China in Beijing, as well as at the past four world championships.
And unlike last year’s world championships, where the Japanese had appeared to close the gap on China, this one wasn’t even close. China finished with 275.997 points, more than four points ahead of Japan.
China now has gone eight years without losing at a major competition.
“At the very beginning it was fourth for Japan so I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t think anything,” a somber Uchimura said. “I was thinking, ‘It’s fourth, it’s fourth.’ Even after it was changed, I was not too happy.”
The Americans weren’t all that happy, either.
Bronze medalists four years ago, they could practically feel their first gold since 1984 after finishing No. 1 in qualifying, with captain Jon Horton jokingly asking if they could claim their prizes. But everyone gets a do-over in team finals, and whatever momentum the Americans had evaporated when Danell Leyva and John Orozco fell on pommel horse, their second event.
They wound up fifth, six points behind China and almost two behind Britain.
“There’s definitely disappointment,” Horton said. “We are one of the best teams in the world.”
China doesn’t have Japan’s stylish elegance, Britain’s youthful exuberance or even the Americans’ flair for the dramatic. What the Chinese do have, however, is sheer, brute strength. Chen Yibing set the tone in the very first event on still rings, where he is the defending Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion.
The Chinese only got better from there, with half their 18 scores at 15.6 or higher. Compare that to Japan, which had five, or Britain, which had four.
“Our rivals were not necessarily stronger than in previous years,” Zhang said, “so we kept a cool mind.”