Andy Thornton, Special to NBC Olympics
Reigning world and Olympic rings champion Chen Yibing – the overwhelming favorite to win gold in the men’s rings final today – probably thought his gold medal was secure, particularly when his name stood atop the leader board with just one gymnast left to go in the final. So did all those in attendance at the North Greenwich Arena.
As the first gymnast up, Chen had set the standard to beat, showing his trademark impeccable strength positions and sticking his dismount cold. After seven out of eight gymnasts in the final had competed, his monstrous 15.8 sat exactly where we all expected it to be – in gold medal position. Last up Arthur Zanetti of Brazil seemed an unlikely contender to steal gold from the legendary gymnast whom many consider one of the most dominant ringsmen who ever lived.
But many may not have realized that the Brazilian had finished second just behind Chen at the world championships a year ago, and although Chen had outscored him by 0.2 at that competition, Zanetti had actually beaten him on the execution side. In the qualifications here in London, the judges had again seen Zanetti as slightly cleaner than Chen, though his final score had still trailed the reigning champion because of his 0.3 disadvantage in difficulty. In an attempt to finally eclipse his Chinese rival on the ultimate stage, Zanetti brought a more difficult routine to the final – one that exactly matched the difficulty score of the gold medal favorite.
The Brazilian’s strength positions were phenomenal – showcasing his exquisite body line and toepoint as he suspended his body perfectly level to the floor. In an original opening sequence, he even showed a little style by holding his body longer than necessary in one of the easier positions before pressing up into the more impressive one.
The style points paid off.
When Zanetti’s final score was tallied at a 15.9, the arena erupted. He had just surpassed the Chinese legend by a tenth of a point, and it was once again the execution that won the judges’ favor. Everyone in the arena recognized the Brazilian’s performance for what it was – a unique, beautiful routine delivered at precisely the right time. With this surprising finish, Arthur Zanetti won Brazil’s first ever gymnastics medal at an Olympic Games – and in an upset of Olympic-sized proportions, it just so happened to be gold.
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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.