LONDON (AP) — Gabby Douglas knows how to deliver.
After bobbling and wobbling her way across the balance beam this summer, the bubbly 16-year-old promised she’d get things cleaned up in time for the Olympics.
Sure enough, not only is Douglas in Tuesday night’s beam final, it might just get her a third gold medal.
“If I can just do what I did in the all-around finals or team finals, then I’ll be good,” she said. “I’m going to get a lot of rest, just rest up, and do a lot of therapies and relax my body and hopefully prepare for that.”
Uneven bars may be Douglas’ signature event — it’s her altitude sickness-inducing release moves that earned her that “Flying Squirrel” nickname, after all — but it’s balance beam that’s made her a star. Her consistency and monster scores on the gymnastics’ equivalent of the tight rope were key as the Fierce Five won the team title, the first by the Americans since 1996, and her confident routine two days later gave her the all-around gold, a first for an African-American gymnast.
She’s been so good, in fact, that beam, not bars, was considered her best chance for a third gold — even before Monday’s lackluster showing in the uneven bars final.
Douglas finished last in the eight-woman final, the excitement and emotion of the previous week finally catching up with her.
“You get toward the end of the Olympics and you get kind of drained,” she said. “I wasn’t mad at myself for bars finals, even if it wasn’t enough for a medal.”
A medal on bars was always a long shot for Douglas, let alone another gold one. Eventual medalists Aliya Mustafina, He Kexin and Beth Tweddle have far more difficult routines, and Douglas would have needed to be perfect while they made a slew of mistakes.
Instead, her routine Monday lacked its usual electricity, and she stalled as she pirouetted on the high bar. It was the briefest of hesitations, and she quickly recovered. But she needed every last decimal point she could get, and that cost her a bunch.
A step on her dismount didn’t help and, after politely smiling at the judges, she quickly walked off the podium and headed straight for the sidelines and her gym bag. Her score of 14.900 was the lowest in the field.
“I’ve got two gold medals. Overall that’s very good,” Douglas said. “I made a mistake and could have fought harder.”
No one will ever say that about Mustafina and Tweddle, whose gold and bronze medals were as much a testament to their grit and determination as to their dazzling athletic skills.
Mustafina’s gold came less than 18 months after she blew out her knee, an injury so serious it made her question whether she’d even be able to compete here, let alone show the class and elegance that once made her the world’s most fearsome gymnast. Tweddle finally won the Olympic medal that had eluded her for so many years, including a heartbreak four years ago that nearly broke her spirit.
“I tried to say it didn’t matter if I didn’t medal, but I’ve got every other title to my name,” Tweddle said. “I can now say I would have been devastated walking away with no medal. I am going to sleep easy tonight.”
In men’s competition, Arthur Zanetti gave Brazil its first medal in gymnastics, upsetting “Lord of the Rings” Chen Yibing for the gold on still rings. South Korea’s Yang Hak-seon added Olympic gold to his world title on vault.
Mustafina was so dominant at the 2010 world championships it seemed impossible she wouldn’t overwhelm the field again in London. She left those worlds with a medal in all but one event, including the all-around gold, and her haughty attitude was as entertaining as her gymnastics skills.
Six months later, however, she blew out her left ACL at the European championships, putting her chances of simply competing in London in doubt.
“Sometimes I did,” Mustafina said when someone asked if she ever considered quitting. “But these urges left me quickly.”
She threw herself into her rehab, coming back so quickly she actually tried to convince her coach she could compete at the world championships last fall.
But there were only glimpses of her old self, and she was downright dismal at this year’s Europeans.
“I did not believe I could do it,” she acknowledged. “I was nowhere near in the shape I am now.”
On this night, however, she was as brilliant as she’s ever been.
Mustafina’s uneven bars routine is packed with so many difficult skills it leaves her gasping for air by the time she’s finished. But she makes them look easy, flipping and floating from one bar to another. Her execution is exquisite, her toes perfectly pointed, her legs razor straight.
When she landed, she threw up her hands in triumph and turned on a megawatt smile. When her score of 16.133 flashed, coach Evgeny Grebenkin picked her up in a bear hug, and chants of “ROSS-EE-YAH!” (Russia) rang out.
She now has a complete set of medals, following her silver from the team competition and bronze from the all-around.
“I am very, very happy I’ve won gold,” Mustafina said. “Every medal represents its own thing.”
Tweddle might have given Mustafina a real run for the gold had she not landed low on her dismount, needing to take two steps back to steady herself. But after her disappointment four years ago, when she finished a mere 25-hundredths of a point from the bronze, any medal was as good as gold.
“I saw myself in third and I thought: ‘Please don’t be fourth again,’” she said. “I just can’t put into words what it means to me.”
The British have become a surprise force in gymnastics — they won four medals at these games — and it was Tweddle who led the way. Her bronze at the 2003 world championships was the first world medal for a British woman, and she won Britain’s first world title, on uneven bars, three years later. She has since added two more world titles, one on floor exercise in 2009 and another on bars in 2010.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Tweddle said after securing her bronze. “It’s the one medal that was missing from my collection and I’ve always said I don’t care what color it is.”
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.