There were very few surprises on the third day of Olympic competition. The biggest was not Michael Phelps, but the men's gymnastics team. Although, I had a much different reaction to their success than they did.
Having lost both Paul and Morgan Hamm mere weeks before the Olympics, the US team came into this weekend with absolutely zero big-time experience, and it was believed that it would result in a competition that was China, Japan, and everybody else.
Except the US came out like a shot, led by Jonathan Horton, the man who was expected to step up and lead in the absence of the Hamm brothers. He did just that, and was sticking everything like he'd been there before. All the other teams were making uncharacteristic mistakes, and by the time three of six rotations were over the US team was in first place.
Everyone knew that the Chinese team was so dominant that a gold medal was unlikely, but given their odds coming in, a silver would be pretty damn awesome. Headed into the sixth and final rotation, they held a three point lead and second place. Their remaining event was the pommel horse. This was widely known as their weakest event, but if they could somehow manage to be just a little above average, they had a very good chance.
Pommel horse is an event that normally produces scores in the 15.00-15.50 range, and unlike the preliminaries (6 team members, 5 performing each event, 4 scores count), this was a much more challenging three and three – only three team members get to perform, and all the scores count.
All of a sudden, huge mistakes by both Kevin Tan and Raj Bhavsar left the US with scores of 12.775 and 13.75 and dropped them behind Japan into third place. An impressive 15.35 by Alexsander Artemev, who had sat waiting to perform all day until the end, plus a good but not great showing by Germany, gave the US a bronze medal.
I realize that for a team to lose its two best athletes and wind up medalling when it was a question mark whether they would even qualify for the medal round, but I can't help but feel a bit irked watching those US guys jumping up and down after such a horrid final rotation. I guess inexperience and low expectations will do that.
Still, a medal is a medal, and the three best performers – Horton, Artemev, and Justin Spring – should likely be back for 2012 in London, a core that the US can very likely depend on for a better medal the next time around.
- Michael Phelps also grabbed gold medal number three in the 200m freestyle, setting another world record and winning by almost two seconds. *yawn* Teammate Rob Vanderkaay also took the bronze.
- Natalie Coughlin took gold in the women's 100m backstroke, while Aaron Piersol won his second consecutive gold and Matt Grevers took silver in the men's.
- Rebecca Soni turned in an unexpected late charge to take silver in the women's 100m breaststroke.
Be sure to tune in tomorrow night to see the following: Katie Hoff swimming in the 200m freestyle final around 10:15, then Phelps in the 200 butterfly final about five minutes later; then an hour break, after which both Hoff and Coughlin will swim in the 200m individual medley final and Phelps will appear in the 4x200m freestylme relay..