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Reversal of fortune leads to golden redemption on floor for Raisman

LONDON -- Until Tuesday, Aly Raisman looked like she was going to be the tough-luck girl of the Olympics. She won gold in the team competition, but lost an all-around bronze medal because of a scoring technicality involving ties, just four days after posting the second-best cumulative score in qualifying.

Then on Tuesday, she turned the apparatus finals into the redemption finals. Raisman won gold in her best event, the floor exercise, and the performance might have been spurred on by a reversal of fortune. Chalk it up to the four-leaf clover that her coach Mihai Brestyan keeps in his pocket, but Raisman had her score raised and finished in a tie with Romania's Catalina Ponor on the balance beam. This time, with a higher mark for execution, she won the tiebreaker and the bronze medal. With the sense that luck was now finally on her side, Raisman entered the floor competition with a newfound confidence.

"I definitely wanted to get an individual medal here," said the 18-year-old U.S. team captain. "So I felt I had nothing to lose on floor because I'd already achieved a goal. It was going to be my last memory from London."

Two Chinese gymnasts, Deng Linlin and Sui Lu, took the top two places on beam. But Raisman's bronze clearly carried her through her routine on the floor exercise, an apparatus on which she had the top qualifying score.

"I heard everyone else cheering," she said of the floor routine. "Normally I block everything out. I was staying in the moment."

U.S. head coach Martha Karolyi said she could see that the beam result helped her, too.

"Psychologically, it was a great support for Aly," she said. "You could see her fantastic sparkling eyes again. I knew she'd be ready for floor. ... I think she was always the hardest-working, most disciplined gymnast who always did her work in the gym and never slacked in the least bit. "Her hard work paid off."

For sure, Raisman wasn't known for Gabby Douglas' flash and exuberance or Jordyn Wieber's steadiness. But both of those disappeared in the event finals, and Raisman managed to shine.

From her crisp front tumbling combination pass at the start to the piked double-jump dismount, Raisman was much stronger than the gymnast whose low scores on bars and beam kept her from winning a medal in the all-around. She received a mark of 15.600 and it held up easily for the rest of the night, with Ponor taking silver (15.200) and Russia's Aliya Mustafina bronze (14.900).

"It felt like redemption from the all-around," Raisman said. "I've done so many routines and floor means so much to me. ... It's sad that the Olympics are over. You think about it so much and it's sad just to think that they're over."

As she left the podium, she started removing the two medals draped around her neck, to the concern of a volunteer, who said, "You don't want to lose them." Raisman laughed, put them into a pocket and answered, "They're really heavy. I'm going to take them off. No, don't worry, I won't forget these. You don't have to worry about that."

Behind Raisman, Wieber finished seventh on floor with a mark of 14.500. Wieber, the reigning world all-around champion, came into the Games expecting to make the type of splash that Douglas did last Thursday. While she contributed nicely to the team gold, Wieber didn't qualify for the all-around finals because of the two-gymnast-per-country rules. In the event final, she produced a very ordinary showing but refused to blame the stress fracture that also affected her at the U.S. trials in San Jose, Calif., where she finished behind Douglas.

In London, Wieber said she was "disappointed." Her coach, John Geddert, said she was "unfulfilled." Now, Wieber faces a crossroad. Can she build herself up again mentally and physically for another run at the top in a new Olympic cycle?

Douglas, meanwhile, showed the fatigue that often plagues all-around champions once they reach event finals and have to build themselves back up. She lost her footing midway through her beam routine and spilled off, grabbing at the underside of the beam. She ended up seventh, with 13.633, just a day after placing eighth on the uneven bars, the other apparatus on which she qualified in the event finals.

"I put all my effort into it," she said of the beam routine. "I'm not going to lie, though. It was definitely hard to regain your focus."

*****

On the men's side, China's Feng Zhe won gold on parallel bars despite a long wait for his winning score of 15.966.

"I feel great," he said. "I think the judges were more nervous than me."

For gymnastics purists, the winning horizontal bar routine by the Netherlands' Epke Zonderland was a thrill ride. With a start value of 7.9 and a three-release combination never before performed at an Olympics, the Flying Dutchman's routine may have been the coolest of the meet. Until the Olympics, the high-bar specialist had a reputation as the guy who would throw the most difficult tricks and always make a mistake somewhere that kept him from gold. In gym-speak, it was Cassina to Kovacs to Kolman, and it translated into a series of double flips over the bar that are spectacular even without putting them in combination.

"I still can't believe it," Zonderland said. "It's unique to be in an Olympic final if you're a Dutch gymnast, but winning gold is bizarre. I worked so long to achieve a result like this. This is amazing."

Two U.S. gymnasts, Danell Leyva and Jonathan Horton, finished fifth and sixth in the event.

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