LONDON - Dutchman Epke Zonderland wowed fans with a gravity-defying high bar routine on Tuesday, as the Olympic gymnastics competition closed amid a dash of controversy and a pair of golds for China.
Zonderland’s stunning display made him the first Dutch gymnast to win Olympic gold in 84 years, but there were tears for Romanian great Catalina Ponor after she twice lost out to America’s Alexandra Raisman on her final competitive appearance.
China signed off with golds for Feng Zhe and Deng Linlin, and although nowhere near as dominant as in Beijing four years ago, the Chinese squad still topped the medals table with five gold, four silver, and three bronze.
Zonderland’s crowd-pleasing performance was the undoubted highlight of the last day of competition at London’s North Greenwich Arena.
The Dutchman’s routine contained a sequence of three consecutive releases — a Cassina, a Kovacs and a Kolman — that brought the crowd roaring to their feet and earned him a massive score of 16.533.
It left Germany’s Fabian Hambuchen with silver and defending champion Zou Kai with bronze, but both men expressed their approval by warmly congratulating Zonderland before the final result had even been confirmed.
“It’s unique to be in an Olympic final if you’re a Dutch gymnast, but winning the gold is bizarre,” said Zonderland, who became the first gymnastic gold medallist from his country since the Dutch women’s team of 1928.
“I worked so long to achieve a result like this. This is amazing.”
Where Zonderland beamed, Ponor wept, the three-time Olympic champion missing out on a medal in the balance beam final and then having to settle for second place in the floor exercise.
Ponor initially finished third on the beam, but the American team demanded a judges’ inquiry that saw Raisman promoted to the podium at the Romanian’s expense.
Eight years on from her gold medal treble in Athens, Ponor then produced a dazzling display in the floor final but boos broke out around the arena when her score of 15.200 left her in second place behind Raisman (15.600).
Ponor failed to report for her scheduled press conference but tearfully told reporters in the mixed zone that she had no regrets.
“I will say it again, and I want everyone to know, I will quit without regrets,” she said. “I have worked every second for my team, I have worked every second for myself, I have worked every second for everybody.
“I have already been an Olympic champion. I will quit gymnastics with my chin up.”
Raisman’s confident floor display left her with three medals after her team gold and beam bronze, and she clanked into the press conference room with her new jewellery proudly hanging around her neck.
“Today has been a dream come true. I’m so glad I got the medal I wanted,” she said. “To have won a gold medal, two gold medals, is really special.”
Aliya Mustafina took the bronze medal in the floor exercise to leave her with a personal tally of four medals — more than any other Russian athlete at the London Games.
It represents a stunning return to form for the graceful 17-year-old, who was unable to defend her individual title at last year’s World Championships after rupturing ligaments in her knee.
Deng upset world champion Sui Lu to claim the gold medal in the women’s beam final, bettering Sui’s score by only 0.100 points to leave her team-mate in tears.
Feng had earlier given China gold on the parallel bars to succeed his countryman Li Xiaopeng as Olympic champion.
Germany’s Marcel Nguyen came second, adding another silver medal to the one he won in the individual all-around final earlier in the competition, while Hamilton Sabot of France finished third.