Gold bars for Verniaiev and Hambuechen in men’s gymnastics
At the Rio Olympic Arena on 16 August Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev made up for narrowly missing out on the men’s all-around title, by clinching gold in the parallel bars, while Germany’s Fabian Hambuechen took gold in the horizontal bars at the fourth time of asking.
Verniaiev, who came agonisingly close to ending the all-around reign of Japan's Kohei Uchimura before missing out on the title by just 0.099 of a point, finally got his hands on a gold as he won the men’s parallel bars competition with a total of 16.041.
He beat the USA’s Danell Leyva by 0.141 of a point, while Russia's David Belyavskiy took the bronze. Travelling end-to-end along the bars, the Ukrainian conjured up an impressive series of handstands. Such was the difficulty packed into his routine that he managed to breach the 16-point barrier, despite his legs wobbling noticeably on one of the handstands.
Once he nailed his dismount, he fell into the arms of his delighted coach, confident he had delivered Ukraine’s first gold of Rio 2016. “I'm extremely happy. I'm delighted,” he purred after the final results were confirmed.
“At long last, I've brought the first gold medal to my country, Ukraine. I thank my team, I thank my fellow athletes who came from the different sports to cheer for me. I still cannot relax. I'm so thrilled.
Leyva, who was a late addition to the US team for Rio 2016 was thrilled with his performance and the result. “Incredible, honestly. A dream come true,” he enthused. “Nobody had the perfect day but I feel like this was as close to perfect as I possibly could have done. I'm incredibly happy. You have to believe within yourself that you can do more than what people expect.”
And he was full of praise for the gold medal winner: “He definitely deserved that medal. He did a phenomenal routine,” said Leyva of his Ukrainian opponent. “He's like my brother, man. We've known each other for a long time. We're super close and it's incredibly humbling to see each other have success like that. I was incredibly happy.”
Hambuechen ends quest for horizontal bar gold
Germany's Fabian Hambuechen soared past his rivals with a heart-stopping routine to win gold on the men’s horizontal bar.
The 28-year-old, who was appearing at his fourth Olympic Games, and who won bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012, finally ended his long wait for the top prize with a score of 15.766. The USA’s Danell Leyva picked up his second silver of the day following his second place finish on the parallel bars, while Nile Wilson took the bronze – a first ever medal for a British gymnast on the apparatus.
The German was the first of the eight finalists to mount the bar and he showed no fear as he pulled off four high-flying release-and-catch moves. Two full twisting somersaults over the bar - a Cassina followed by a Kolman - were the highlights of a routine that ended with the German winding his arms backwards to steady his feet on dismount.
He then faced a nervous wait to see if any of the other seven finalists could surpass his score. Nobody could. “It’s a great story, but should be the other way around, starting with gold, then silver, then bronze. That is something I could imagine,” mused Hambuechen. “I need some time to realise what happened today.
“Before the Games I said this was going to be my last competition. I’m now going to retire, and to finish like that is a dream come true, it was the only medal that wasn't mine, until now. I came to Rio to enjoy my fourth Olympic Games, to have a great finish of my career, and then I made it to the high bar final, which was already a great achievement."
Defending champion Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands saw his hopes of back-to-back golds ended when he came off the apparatus midway through his routine, and he finished seventh out of eight finalists.