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- Women’s Results: Balance Beam
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By Jo-Ann Barnas, Special Contributor
RIO DE JANEIRO — Simone Biles couldn’t sit still. She stood up. She sat down. She stood up again and put her hands above her knees, bending forward like a football coach on the sideline of a big game.
Only this was the Olympic balance beam final, and the gymnast that was up on the apparatus, superbly driving through her routine, was Biles’ U.S. teammate, Laurie Hernandez, on Monday at the Rio Games.
“You got this,” Biles told her minutes before. “Stay calm.”
At that moment, Biles, who had competed three gymnasts earlier, was sure she had missed the podium after touching the beam with her hand to secure an off-landing on a front tuck. Biles had scored a 14.733, and with five competitors to go in the eight-woman final, her thoughts were now off herself and squarely on making sure that Hernandez – her roommate in the Olympic Village — would be up on the medal stand for Team USA.
As it turned out, Hernandez made it.
And, so did Biles.
The Americans had gone two for two: No gold, but two supremely hard fought medals of silver and bronze.
Hernandez, the silver medalist, couldn’t top the Sanne Wevers’ score of 15.466 that gave the Netherlands its first Olympic gold medal on beam. Hernandez’s routine scored 15.333, while Biles held on for the bronze medal. The finish marked the first time the U.S. women landed two on the podium on beam since Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin won gold and silver in 2008 at the Beijing Games.
“I’m really happy with how I performed today,” said Hernandez, the silver medal dangling from a ribbon around her neck. “I think this is one of the better routines that I showed in Rio and I was happy that I performed it the way I did in practice. I just reminded myself that I’ve done this so many times. Just once I got up there, I felt very calm. I almost felt comfortable up there.”
For Biles, the medal was her fourth at the Games and put to rest the media-driven “drive for five” hysteria that the gymnast said she never allowed to consume her. Entering Monday, she was already the most-decorated U.S. female gymnast at a single Games after winning gold medals in the team final, individual all around and vault. Biles will try to win her fifth medal Tuesday on floor exercise.
“Yes. She’s human,” said Aimee Boorman, the U.S. Olympic team coach who’s also Biles’ longtime personal coach. “But I don’t know how she made that save because both of her feet were coming off the beam. So I was pretty impressed with that; that took super human power. So I see it as a triumph. She won a bronze medal on beam at the Olympics. That’s huge, and she should be proud of that.”
Martha Karolyi, USA Gymnastics women’s national team coordinator, was sitting with the U.S. contingent of athletes and coaches in the stands, directly in front of the apparatus during the final. She said that she thought that a “little bit of the pressure” had gotten to Biles, but that it was understandable. Keep in mind, as Boorman was quick to point out, that gymnast had already performed so many pressure-packed routines at the Games since team qualifying Aug. 7.
When Biles walked over to Boorman after her beam performance, Biles said told her: “I’m not going to medal with that routine. That’s really disappointing.”
Boorman responded: “Well, let’s wait and see. There’s a lot of people to go.”
It didn’t take long for Biles to learn that gold was out of the question. Wevers was up immediately following Biles and the 24-year-old reigning world silver medalist (behind Biles) scored a 15.466 and easily took the lead. Then the waiting game began. Catalina Ponor of Romania (14.000) was followed by Hermandez (15.333) who was followed by Marine Boyer of France (14.600) then Brazil’s Flavia Saraiva (14.533).
“Honestly, I thought the (beam bronze) medal was going to Flavia because she did so good on beam,” Biles said of the Brazilian, who finished fifth behind Boyer. “I think she deserves it, but I’m still very proud of it (the bronze).”
And Biles couldn’t be more proud of Hernandez’s silver.
“I’m so happy that she could share with the world what she does in practice,” Biles said. “That’s exactly what she did tonight, and I’m so proud of her and all of her hard work has finally paid off.”
Among the Final Five, Hernandez is not only the youngest, but also has the least experience of the group; it wasn’t until earlier this year at the City of Jesolo Trophy that she made her senior debut.
But Hernandez, with longtime coach Maggie Haney at her side, affirmed her growing stature with Karolyi when she took the bronze medal in the all around at the P&G Championships and then topped that when she was runner-up to Biles at trials.
Hernandez wasn’t on the outside looking in at the Rio Games on balance beam; she had the second-best score behind Biles in qualifying (15.633 to 15.366). And then, in the team final, Hernandez contributed to team gold on three events — vault, beam and floor exercise.
Monday, in front of a boisterous crowd, Hernandez was rock solid again. Haney had more than a good feeling that her gymnast was going to do it.
Haney said Hernandez told her: “It’s just me and you in the gym. Let’s pretend there’s nobody there.”
When Hernandez landed her dismount, one of the first to greet her was Biles.
“A year ago, I won P&Gs for juniors,” Hernandez said with smile. “That was an exciting moment, but it doesn’t compare to today.”
Hernandez said that she and Biles, 19, are so close that she considers her a “big sister.”
“I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “There’s a lot of love between us.”
On the medal ceremony, the U.S. teammates did their talking with their eyes, looking at each other and laughing in celebration at what they had accomplished together.
“She deserves it,” Biles said of Hernandez’s silver, “more than anyone.”
In other event finals Monday, reigning world champ Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece defeated 2012 Olympic gold medalist Arthur Zanetti of Brazil for the still rings title with a score of 16.000. Zanetti beat out Russian Denis Abliazin for the silver, 15.766 topping Abliazin’s 15.700.
In men’s vault, two-time world champion Ri Se Gwong of North Korea won his first Olympic title on the apparatus. His score of 15.691 was just ahead of Abliazin (15.516) and Kenzo Shirai of Japan (15.449), who clinched bronze in a tie breaker over Romanian Marian Dragulescu.
Artistic gymnastics ends at the Olympics on Tuesday with the third and final day of individual event finals. For Team USA, Aly Raisman will join Biles on floor exercise, while Danell Leyva has a chance to add another medal (or two) to his 2012 Olympic all-around bronze as he’ll compete on parallel bars and high bar, where he’ll be joined by teammate Sam Mikulak.