LONDON -- The first of three straight days of apparatus finals begins Sunday. Here's a look at what to expect as the Olympic artistic gymnastics competition moves into its second phase ...
The first of six men's finals figures to be a two-man show. China's Zou Kai won this rather easily as part of his triple gold haul at the 2008 Olympics. Japan's Kohei Uchimura, who took the all-around title Monday, is the reigning world champion on floor, relegating Zou to silver in Tokyo last year. In qualifying, Zou bettered Uchimura 15.833 to 15.766, thanks in part to a difficulty value that was two tenths higher (Zou also had the highest score in the team final). If Zou and Uchimura hit their routines, it would be a surprise if they didn't go 1-2. The bronze medal picture is less clear. American Olympic rookie Jake Dalton finished qualifying tied for fourth with a 15.633 on Saturday. He'll look to better his performance from 2011 worlds, where he was eighth out of eight competitors. The U.S. hasn't won a floor medal since Peter Kormann's bronze in 1976. It's the longest U.S. medal drought in any artistic gymnastics event, men's or women's. Romanian Flavius Koczi (third in qualifying) and Greek Alexander Shatilov (tied for fourth) are Dalton's biggest competition for bronze.
There is little debate over gold here. American McKayla Maroney is the reigning world champion and qualified first into this final. In vault finals, competitors must perform twice (versus once during team or all-around finals), and their two scores are averaged. Maroney, 16, averaged a 15.3 to win last year's world championship. The silver medalist averaged a 14.733. It was a blowout. In qualifying at these Olympics, Maroney used an upgraded second vault to average a 15.8. The next-highest qualifier averaged a 15.316. Again, not even close. For good measure, Maroney put up the highest single Olympic vault score under the new code of points during the team final -- a 16.233. There are two intriguing wild cards among the threats for silver and bronze. Beijing silver medalist Oksana Chusovitina is competing in her gymnast-record sixth Olympics at age 37. Then there's Dominican Yamilet Pena, the 4-foot-8 19-year-old who performed a 7.1-difficulty vault in qualifying but sat it down for a deflating 7.833 execution score. Nobody else in this final performs a vault with a difficulty greater than 6.5.
This is the one event the host nation has been waiting to see. Louis Smith has a legitimate shot at becoming the first British gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal. Smith qualified first into the final with a 15.8, well better than second-place Cyril Tommasone of France (15.333). Smith went even better in team finals with a 15.966, again best in the field. The only thing working against the Brit is recent history. Hungarian Krisztian Berki, who qualified fifth, is the two-time reigning world champion. Smith settled for bronze at the 2008 Olympics, silver at 2010 worlds and bronze at 2011 worlds because he didn't adequately execute the most difficult routine in the field. If Smith can handle the pressure and perform like he has twice already in these Games, he will finally get that gold, for himself and for his country.