The gold in today's men's gymnastics all-around went to Japan's Kohei Uchimura, aka "Superman," as it was supposed to. Did that make it boring, like a murder mystery where you know the ending, or like a primetime broadcast of a swimming race whose results were published hours ago?
It did not. Uchimura had created a bit of drama by faltering in the preceding two competitions, so that he wasn't even competing in the top-seeded group this time. Despite those errors, though, everyone still believed that if he hit his routines, he would be unbeatable.
Aside from putting his hands down on a tumbling pass, Uchimura hit everything. The excitement in watching him, though, doesn't come from wondering if he'll win. It comes from watching someone at the top of his game do everything better than everyone else. Not only is he capable of incredibly high degrees of difficulty, but he performs his skills with perfect form and pure technique. When he tumbles or swings on the high bar, it never looks hard.
The real stakes for Uchimura were aesthetic and historical. His performance today confirmed his status as the best male gymnast of all time.
So for competitive drama, the place to look was the competition for silver and bronze. The standings reshuffled throughout the meet, among gymnasts from Russia, Japan, Ukraine, and Germany, and the results came down to the final few routines.
Going into the Olympics, Germany's all-around hopes had rested with Phillipp Boy. When Boy failed to qualify, the burden shifted to Fabian Hambuechen, who did remarkably well in preliminaries. But Hambuechen faltered early, and it was Marcel Nguyen who stayed on the events and hit 6-for-6 to win the silver, Germany's first medal in the men's Olympic all-around since 1936.
The bronze went to America's Danell Leyva, who'd been the top-scoring qualifier. Leyva and teammate John Orozco both quickly dug themselves into a hole with big mistakes on their pommel horse dismounts. But Leyva spent the rest of the meet clawing his way back into medal contention.
Fortunately for him, his night ended with his best and highest-scoring events—parallel bars, where he's the current world champion, and high bar, where he did well enough in preliminaries to qualify for the event final. With two big hits (and rhythmic clapping from his stepdad/coach Yin "@CoachYinsanity" Alvarez), Leyva completed his meet-long comeback and grabbed a medal and a bit of redemption for the U.S. men's gymnastics program.
For a handy master schedule of every Olympic event, click here.
Dvora Meyers is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Tablet and elsewhere. She writes about gymnastics and Judaism at Unorthodox Gymnastics, and she is the author of Heresy on the High Beam: Confessions of an Unbalanced Jewess. She blogs about woman-y stuff over at The Anti-Girlfriend.