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Scoring controversy takes center stage at men's gymnastics final

1. Yet another gymnastics scoring controversy, and the world's greatest gymnast was at the center of it. The very last routine of Monday's competition was Japan's Kohei Uchimura on pommel horse. Uchimura is the three-time reigning world all-around champion, his face plastered on airplanes in Japan. He is superman. Uchimura surely didn't know the exact standings as he performed his final routine, but the vibe in the arena was that Japan had clinched silver. Uchimura performed solidly until a dismount so clumsy that he left the horse with a sheepish grin. Nobody was really paying attention to Uchimura's score. The British fans at North Greenwich Arena were already celebrating an apparent bronze medal.

But then the final team standings flashed on the scoreboard. 1. CHINA 2. GREAT BRITAIN 3. UKRAINE 4. JAPAN. Elation ensued. Uchimura's face froze. He had been given a 13.466. Kohei Uchimura never scores in the 13s. Once the bewilderment faded (a little), it was announced that Japan filed a protest of Uchimura's score. Minutes passed. The crowd did the wave. Heroes played over the loud speakers. At last, a message flashed on the scoreboard, "Inquiry accepted." Uchimura's score was boosted to 14.166, enough to vault Japan over both Ukraine and Great Britain for silver. As result, Ukraine finished off the podium.

Judges had conferred and bumped up Uchimura's "D score," or difficulty score, which surely had been downgraded because of his lack of a dismount. We are no longer in the subjective perfect-10 era. Gymnastics overhauled its scoring system after judging controversies at the 2004 Olympics (see Paul Hamm, Yang Tae-Young and Alexei Nemov). The complicated "code of points" was aimed to eliminate this kind of issue. But here we are again. And, you have to wonder, how much did Uchimura's reputation play a role in the change?

2. The U.S. stumbled, then crumbled and never recovered. There's a reason they throw out qualification scores. The Americans were the best in the world on Saturday, when no medals were at stake, while Japan and China were uncharacteristically mediocre. But with a clean sheet and gold, silver and bronze on the line, everything changed. China completely flipped the switch and had its second straight Olympic title wrapped up with one rotation to go. Japan, before Uchimura's head-scratcher, was also clearly better than the rest of the field, as it should be.

The U.S., if it had a poor final, was supposed to do no worse than bronze. Fifth? Out of the question. It's the worst U.S. men's finish at an Olympics since 2000 (also fifth; they were sixth in 1992) and softens the momentum built from a silver in 2004 and a bronze in 2008.

The Americans opened on floor exercise, where their least experienced member, Sam Mikulak, put his hands down on a dismount for a score of 14.6 (he scored 15.366 in Saturday's qualifying). They were in fifth place after the first of six rotations. It wasn't the worst possible start, but it sent the five-man team into its two weakest events without a whole lot of confidence.

The second event, pommel horse, again proved to be the Americans' Achilles' heel. Danell Leyva fell off of it and scored a 13.4, and John Orozco struggled even more, posting a 12.733. They fell to seventh after two rotations.

Sound the alarms. They bounced back a bit on still rings, but any hope of a comeback for a bronze went splat when Orozco sat down his vault on the third rotation. Really, given all that went wrong, the recovery for fifth should get a golf clap.

3. American all-around prospects also took a hit. Orozco, who on Saturday qualified fourth into Wednesday's all-around final, had a nightmare Monday. He posted the lowest American score on four straight events -- pommel horse, rings, vault and parallel bars -- and was fighting back tears after the 14.6 on vault. Can Orozco, the youngest member of the team at 19, put this behind him over the next 48 hours?

Then there's Leyva, the top qualifier into the all-around final. He recovered slightly after the fall on pommel horse, but you have to wonder if this disappointment will conjure memories of the 2011 world championships. Leyva qualified third into the all-around final there, only to finish dead last after slamming his chin on high bar and getting a 6.466.