LONDON — Gabby Douglas had spun gold out of every event she had contested at the London Olympics.
But on Day Nine of the gymnastics competition, the 16-year-old who had been solid as granite and light as air in leading the U.S. women to team gold and winning the individual all-around title, showed the toll her magic has taken.
Pitted against the world’s best uneven-bars specialists, Douglas finished last in the field of eight in Monday’s apparatus final.
With the grace that has defined her performances, Douglas praised the technical and artistic superiority of the medal winners: Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, who scored 16.133 points to claim gold; China’s He Kexin, who took silver (15.933); and 27-year-old Beth Tweddle of Britain, whose bronze (15.916) capped a dogged Olympic career.
“Seeing them achieve their dreams and achieve their goals, I’m very excited for them,” Douglas said.
She confessed she was drained physically and mentally from the rigor of her first Olympics, which no doubt contributed to the uncharacteristic mistakes in an uneven-bars routine she had performed better twice last week.
“No matter how much rest you get, you wake up and your body is just so tired because you train every day and you compete every other day,” Douglas said. “You go back in the gym, it’s very hard. Your body is stiff.”
And she vowed that Tuesday, her final day of competition, would be better following what she hoped would be a good night’s sleep.
She and Aly Raisman will compete on the balance beam. Jordyn Wieber, the reigning all-around world champion who stunningly missed qualifying for the all-around final, will join Douglas in vying for gold on the floor. And two American men also will conclude their Olympics on Tuesday in the horizontal bar final: Jonathan Horton, of Houston, and Danell Leyva, of Miami, who claimed bronze in the men’s all-around.
Douglas started Monday’s uneven bars competition at a considerable disadvantage, given that her routine had one of the lower difficulty scores among the eight finalists. And when she skipped a skill in trying to smooth over a mistake, her difficulty score was dropped to 6.300, lowest in the field.
China’s He, by contrast, earned 7.100 points for her routine’s complexity.
Even if Douglas had executed her routine to perfection, she likely would have finished no higher than fourth overall. But she fell short of that, her most glaring mistake an off-kilter handstand.
“Coming into the bar final is definitely a big challenge for me,” Douglas said. “I made a little mistake, but I’m human. And when you get toward the end of the Olympics, you’re kind of physically drained and tired.”
Regardless of how Tuesday’s beam final unfolds, Douglas’s Olympic debut has been a triumph that has captivated American TV audiences, Madison Avenue marketing executives, untold youngsters around the globe with gold medal dreams and the sport’s original Olympic darling, Olga Korbut.
Korbut, who won three gold medals at the 1972 Games with her daring skills and megawatt smile, said in an interview before Monday’s final that Douglas’s confidence and charisma caught her eye the moment she saw her perform.
“She is something,” said Korbut, 57. “This is why I first — I just keep eye on her because she is not like everybody else. She is different. This is what I would like to see in gymnasts: Personality. Smile. Joy. Beauty. Grace.”
The first gymnast on the uneven bars Monday was China’s He, 20, who won gold on the apparatus in 2008 and has become more skilled since. No gymnast matched the difficulty of He’s consecutive release moves.
“Physically I have trained myself to be very, very familiar with the routine,” He said through an interpreter. “I mastered every move.”
She was followed by the world’s reigning uneven-bars champion, Viktoria Komova, 17, who was bitterly disappointed after finishing second to Douglas in the individual all-around. Once again the Russian under-performed, hitting the bar during her routine, and had to be consoled by her coach.
Cheered by a deafening home-court crowd, Tweddle held nothing back on the final Olympic routine of her career. A stumble on her difficult dismount was the only glitch, and it likely cost her silver.
But she had no regrets.
“You have to take risks, and with big tricks come slight inconsistencies,” said Tweddle, who considered retiring after narrowly missing a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. “I could say, ‘What it? If I hadn’t taken that step, it could have been a gold.’ But I’m not disappointed in the slightest.”
Mustafina, who followed, acknowledged that she seized on Tweddle’s poor landing as an opportunity. The Russian was nearly flawless, drawing an event-high 9.133 for her execution.
And there was nothing Douglas could do to equal that, given her lower difficulty score. So she tried to perform her skills to the best of her ability but came up short.
“I wasn’t doubting myself,” Douglas said. “But there is a lot of great talent, and I had one of the lower start values. . . . It’s still kind of disappointing how I could have done a little bit better.”
Still, Douglas patiently fielded questions from every direction, on every topic.
Yes, it was the first time she had worn the sparkly, silver leotard. “I love it!” she said
Asked how she could get other African-America youngsters involved in gymnastics: “I don’t have that control,” she replied with a slight smile.
She also was asked about the financial hardships her mother has confronted in paying for her training while rearing four children, and she explained that it had been difficult.
Then she referred follow-up questions to her mother.
As for the state of her confidence, she proclaimed it solidly intact.
“I’m going to go on beam tomorrow and finish on a good note,” Douglas said. “I’m going to finish really strong.”
Also Monday, U.S. gymnast Sam Mikulak finished fifth in the men’s vault, scoring 16.050.
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