LONDON — The leader after one rotation of the Olympic gymnastics women’s all-around competition?
After two rotations: Gabrielle Douglas. After three rotations: Gabrielle Douglas.
And after four rotations — the vault that requires precise strength, the uneven bars that ask for daredevil will and the desire to fly, the skinny balance beam that begs an athlete to fall off, the floor exercise that has a boundary that isn’t always easy to respect — the winner?
A 16-year-old who left her Virginia Beach, Va., home and her family when she was 14 so she could train in Iowa, Douglas won the Olympic gold medal Thursday at North Greenwich Arena. She led from start to finish, scoring 62.232 and leaving a pair of Russians — Victoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina — as disconsolate silver and bronze medalists.
Alexandra Raisman, an 18-year-old from Needham, Mass., who had been the surprise top American all-around qualifier while keeping reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber out of the final, finished fourth.
Raisman had the same total score as Mustafina (59.566) but was placed fourth because of the tiebreaker procedure, which counted the sum of the three best scores. With that, Mustafina had 45.933 points to Raisman’s 45.366.
Outside of the glum Russians — Komova, who lost by .259, said of her feelings about her silver medal, “The mood is really that of disappointment” — no one seemed unhappy for Douglas, who became the first black American Olympic all-around champion.
Supporting Douglas in the stands was her mother, Natalie Hawkins, as well as Missy and Travis Parton, whom Douglas calls her “second” parents. Douglas lives with the Partons in West Des Moines, where she went to train under coach Liang Chow, the man who took Shawn Johnson to a world championship and Olympic all-around silver medal four years ago.
Douglas took a .326 lead over Komova into the final rotation, floor exercise. Douglas’ power tumbling almost took her out of bounds once, but she danced her way inbounds on her tiptoes and when her score of 15.033 was posted, Douglas leaped into the arms of Chow.
“I wanted to seize the moment,” Douglas said. “I don’t think it has all sunk in yet. Team finals hasn’t sunk in yet. But it will.”
Douglas had already helped lead the U.S. team to gold.
Had Raisman not stumbled on the balance beam, she could have had a medal as well. Raisman had finished second in the all-around qualifying competition, just behind Komova and a little ahead of Douglas and Wieber.
But Olympic rules decree that no more than two competitors per country can compete in the 24-woman final, so Wieber, despite having the fourth-highest score, was left to watch stone-faced from the stands.
“Everybody makes you feel bad because you take the world champion’s place,” said Raisman’s coach, Mihai Brestyan. “They’re not happy for you. They are mad for Jordyn.”
Brestyan said Raisman felt a little extra pressure because she had eliminated Wieber and that might have contributed to her poor beam performance.
Raisman called her fourth-place finish “a huge bummer” and suggested it might have been better to award two bronze medals. “It’s also a bummer that they can’t just let both of us get a bronze medal,” Raisman said. “But I’m happy for the girls on the podium.”
Until this year, Douglas had been relatively unknown. Even U.S. women’s team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Douglas has climbed to the top rapidly.
“I don’t ever recall anybody this quickly rising from an average, good gymnast to a fantastic one,” Karolyi said. “It has been so amazing to see.”
And Douglas still has two more chances for medals. She has qualified for uneven bars and balance beam event finals.
But first? “I want to celebrate,” Douglas said, “with my families.”
(c)2012 Los Angeles Times
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