Simone Biles' bronze on beam ends quest to break gymnastics gold record

  • Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands wins gold with artistic routine
  • USA’s Laurie Hernandez wins silver ahead of team-mate
  • Biles can still claim fourth gold in floor exercise on Tuesday

Simone Biles’ bid for a history-making fifth Olympic gold medal fell short as she had to settle for bronze in the individual balance beam competition. Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands captured gold with a highly artistic routine, while the 16-year-old American upstart Laurie Hernandez capped off her Olympic debut with the silver.

The beam, which dares gymnasts to perform routines of extraordinary rigour on a platform 4ft above the ground and not much wider than a credit card, is the sport’s most precarious apparatus and the world champion of the past two years fell victim to the discipline’s essential unpredictability.

Biles, who qualified for the final with the top score, had a flawless start to her routine but she slipped badly when her left foot landed on the edge of the beam and needed to reach down and grab the apparatus to stay on.

“I’m not disappointed in the medal that I received because anyone would love to have a bronze at an Olympic Games,” Biles said. “I’m disappointed in the routine that I did. Not so much the entire routine just the front tuck, I guess, because the rest of the routine was pretty good.”

The 19-year-old Texan, who had yet to score below 15.3 in three previous sets on the beam at this Olympics, posted a score of 14.733. That was good enough to go first but opened the door for the gold with five competitors left.

After descending from the competition podium, a disappointed Biles was so certain the score would not be enough for a top-three that she did not change into her medal ceremony outfit until the final score had been posted.

“She is human,” her long-time coach, Aimee Boorman, said. “She made that save, because both of her feet were coming off the beam. I was pretty impressed with that. I see it as a triumph. She won a bronze medal on beam at the Olympics. That’s huge. She should be proud of that. Besides that error the rest of the routine was excellent. Sometimes your feet slip.”

Wevers was next and performed a routine of exquisite artistry and heightened difficulty. Shortly after sticking a perfect landing, the score of 15.466 made it official: Biles’ run for a record-breaking five women’s gymnastic golds at one Olympics was over.

Hernandez was sixth to compete and came through with the routine of her career, error-free save for a tiny hop on the double pike dismount. The score of 15.333 lifted her into silver with two competitors left. But neither France’s Marine Boyer nor Brazil’s Flávia Saraiva could break into the top three.

Boorman said: “This beam final going in, we’re in the back room in the warm-up gym watching everybody and everyone was amazing, just hitting and hitting and hitting and looking beautiful doing it. It was really anybody’s race. She unfortunately had a significant error but the rest of her routine was good enough to get her a bronze.”

Biles, who had already captured golds in the individual all-around, individual vault and team competitions, can still match the Romanian Ecaterina Szabo, the Czech Vera Caslavska, Agnes Keleti of Hungary and Larisa Latynina of the Soviet Union with four golds at a single Olympics when she competes in Tuesday’s floor exercise final, her favourite discipline, in which she has won the last three world championships.

She insisted the pressure of the so-called drive for five had not gotten to her. “It’s something you guys shove into my head and I’m 19,” Biles said. “I can’t put that much stress on myself because I am only 19. I think you guys want it more than I do because I just want to perform the routines that I’ve practised.”

Boorman added: “Tomorrow is a whole new event. I don’t think it will affect her mentally at all.”

The victory by the 24-year-old Wevers, the oldest Olympic champion in the discipline since Eva Bosakova in 1960, gave the Dutch their second Olympic medal in women’s artistic gymnastics, after their team gold at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam.

Hernandez and Biles gave the US women’s team their sixth and seventh medals in gymnastics at these Olympics. Since last Tuesday’s smashing win in the team competition, Biles won individual golds in the all-around and the vault, with Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian taking silvers respectively in the all-around and uneven bars.

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