Where the Olympic men's gymnastics all-around final had been a gradual, predictable victory for favorite Kohei Uchimura, the women's final came down to the last routine and the last score. When the tabulation was done, Gabby Douglas of the United States took the title, becoming the first woman of color to do so.
Before competition began in London, I was a skeptic. I didn't believe Douglas would be the one to win the gold. Her performances at the 2012 nationals and trials were very encouraging, but not a portent of greatness. Like a lot of fans, I kept mentally rewinding to her mistake-riddled performance in the 2011 national championships, which left her with a reputation as a head case.
But that was unfair. In 2011, Douglas was coming back from an injury, and hadn't had the opportunity to train enough sets. Even so, and under the pressure of one of her first big senior meets, she made the world championship team on the strength of her work on the uneven bars—and much to everyone's surprise, hit all of her preliminary events and made the bar finals at worlds.
In March, Douglas showed up as an exhibition competitor at the American Cup with a new vault, one of the ballyhooed Amanars, and unofficially topped the all-around standings. She had a rough outing at the Pacific Rim Championships, almost topped champion Jordyn Wieber at Nationals, and then won the Olympic trials.
On the first day of competition in London, she leaped out of bounds on her floor exercise. She hasn't made a mistake since. In the American team's run to the team gold medal, she was the only team member to contribute routines in all four disciplines.
That effort didn't wear her out. During the individual all-around, she was even sharper than before. She took the lead on the vault and never relinquished it, despite intense pressure from 17-year-old Russian superstar Viktoria Komova.
Komova, the runner-up both in London and at last year's worlds in Tokyo, had a brilliant day, too. She started off on vault and suffered her only break—a relatively minor one—when she stepped to the side and off the mats. Her bars, where she is the current world champion, were stellar and her beam was very well done.
It came down to the floor, where Komova was the final competitor to perform, knowing that she needed the best routine of her life to overtake Douglas. She delivered a brilliant one. But it still was not enough.
In third place was Russia's 2010 world champion Aliya Mustafina, who completed a remarkable comeback from tearing her ACL fifteen months ago. Solid on vault and fantastic on bars—where she notched the top score of the all around competition—she hopped off the beam on her standing Arabian, then rounded out the meet with a strong floor exercise.
Also in third was American Aly Raisman, the surprise qualifier to the all around final, thanks to strong performances on the vault and floor offsetting an uncharacteristic error on beam. At least, she thought she was. Though she and Mustafina both finished scores of 59.566, Mustafina prevailed under the tiebreaking rules.
This is the second Olympics in which women's gymnastics has needed a tie broken. Back in 2008, three different tiebreakers were needed before He Kexin and Nastia Liukin's scores on the uneven bar finals could be pulled apart. It ended with He on the winner's podium and Nastia with the silver.
Raisman, understandably, looked devastated. Reportedly it was a member of the press, not an FIG official, who informed her that she would not be receiving the bronze and standing alongside Mustafina on the podium.
The Russians, long accused of being divas, were nothing but gracious in acknowledging Douglas. "She performed beautifully today," Komova said during the post-meet interviews. "And I believe that she earned her gold medal."
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.