Once more, the gold medal was within Shawn Johnson’s reach. Again, it was snatched away.
Two days after Nastia Liukin edged Johnson for the all-around title, Romania’s Sandra Izbasa — the very last competitor — grabbed the floor exercise gold that was almost in the American’s hands.
After Johnson went in the unenviable first spot Sunday night and saw her 15.50 stand up through six other finalists, including Liukin, only Izbasa remained. But the Romanian wowed the judges with her soaring somersaults and solid landings, earning a 15.65.
That left Johnson, the 2007 world champion, with three silver medals in Beijing, and gave Liukin, who took bronze, one of each. Not a bad haul, with more event finals to come.
Johnson, gracious as always, wore a bright smile all night, and gave several competitors big hugs when they finished their routines. She barely flinched when Izbasa’s mark came up, and the 16-year-old American also had a hug for the winner.
“I had a little bit of hope inside of me,” Johnson said, “but seeing how beautifully she executed her routine, I knew.”
The biggest upset of the night came in women’s vault, with China’s Cheng Fei losing for the first time in three years. The gold medalist at the last three world championships landed on her knees on her second attempt, leaving the competition wide open. North Korea’s Hong Un Jong stepped in with two solid vaults and clean landings to win the title — the first gymnastics medal for her nation.
The men’s event finals were — here’s a shock — dominated by China. Zou Kai won the floor exercise and Ziao Qin took pommel horse, making the hosts 4-for-4. Add in the women’s successes, and it’s been a medals feast for the Chinese.
And not at all disappointing for the U.S. women, who now have five medals. Johnson and Liukin had a hand in all of them.
“After the all-around, I was excited to have made the floor finals and a bronze medal feels great,” Liukin said.
Neither of them competed in vault, where Cheng followed the best effort of the night, a 16.075, with her huge error, ending up with the bronze behind Oksana Chusovitina of Germany. Cheng also fell during her floor routine, then burst into tears as her coach tried to console her on the sideline.
Chusovitina, competing for Germany for the first time but in her fifth Olympics, won silver. A native of Uzbekistan and now a German citizen, the 33-year-old Chusovitina said she “feels 18.”
“Today I concentrated only on my moves, not the medals,” she said. “I felt that I had a very normal performance without surprises, and that is why I got a silver medal.”
American Alicia Sacramone, who has three world championship medals in vault, felt she deserved a medal, but finished fourth.
“I’m disappointed, especially since third place had a fall and I made both of mine,” she said. “I can’t change her score. The judges made up their minds.”
Sacramone was hoping to atone for her weak performance in the team competition, when she fell off the balance beam, then struggled on floor as the United States finished second to China.
“I definitely had to pull myself together a little bit the last few days,” Sacramone admitted. “I’m sure someday I’ll appreciate what I did. I still have to get to that step.”
The Chinese men just keeping stepping all over the competition.
Zou zipped through a series of pretzel-like twists and lightning-quick somersaults to easily beat Spain’s Gervasio Deferr in the floor exercises. The Spaniard took the silver with a powerful series, then threw kisses to the crowd. Russia’s Anton Golotsutskov got the bronze.
“It is amazing to go to three Olympics and get three medals,” said Deferr, the 2000 and 2004 vault winner.
World champion Diego Hypolito of Brazil seemed headed for a medal until he fell on the landing of his final pass. Hypolito then sat nearly in tears, shaking his head back and forth.
“I’m sorry,” Hypolito said, before breaking down, his body shaking as he cried. “I’m sorry to all the Brazilians.”
Three-time world champ Marian Dragulescu of Romania fell on his second tumbling pass.
On pommel horse, even though world champion Xiao had a break in form and was hardly overwhelming, his 15.875 easily beat the eight-man field.
“I was nervous when I was watching the other gymnasts competing after me,” Xiao said. “This is a competition, so two or three mistakes are pretty common. I was struggling during those 10 minutes. I was worried that I wouldn’t get the gold medal.”
Filip Ude of Croatia won the silver. His 15.725 score tied with Britain’s Louis Smith, but Ude won the tiebreaker for Croatia’s first-ever gymnastics medal.
Smith had a strong, clean routine to take the first Olympic gymnastics medal for his nation since a 1912 team bronze.
All-around winner Yang Wei of China was fourth.
China now has won the men’s team, the all-around with Yang, the pommel horse and the floor exercise.