HUNTINGDON gymnast Louis Smith won a London 2012 Olympic Games silver medal in his pommel horse final after being awarded exactly the same score as his biggest rival, Krisztian Berki, who took the gold with a better execution.
But Smith was not too downhearted when he spoke to the BBC after cellecting his medal, saying he was ‘proud’ to have been beaten by ‘one of the greatest pommel horses ever’.
Smith outdid his rival in difficulty - his routine was technically harder than the Hungarian’s - but Berki’s faultless execution of the easier routine meant he was on the top tier of the podium when the medals were handed out - not the second. On the third tier, next to Smith, was another Brit: 19-year-old Max Whitlock.
Smith, the Huntingdon Gym star who is coached by Paul Hall in the town, qualified for the final during the team event last Monday. He captained that team to a bronze medal, to add to the bronze he had won on the pommel horse in Beijing, China, in 2008. Smith, 23, is now a double bronze, and silver medalist.
Smith told the BBC: “It was very tough - being a British athlete at a home Games is very nerve-wracking, especially with the build up we have had over the last couple of years.
“I wasn’t too focused on what anyone else was doing - my routine is hard enough without worrying about what other people are doing.
“Krisztian and I are great rivals but good friends. If I was going to be beaten by anyone - apart from Max - Krisztian Berki is that guy.
“He will go down as one of the greatest pommel horse workers ever. The fact that I came second to him is something to be proud of.”
There were eight competitors in the competition which started at 3.41am precisely - with Smith, having the best qualifying score, the last up.
Cyril Tommasone from France was one of the favourites - along with Smith and Berki - but up first, following an excellent display, his dismount was a little stuttered, and it was awarded a score of 15.141.
Next up was Italy’s Alberto Busnari, he also paused on a handstand during a series of flairs in what was a long routine. He was given 15.400. Hungary’s Vid Hedvegi came off the horse mid-routine during a Russian combination - and his score 14.300 of reflected that mistake.
Whitlock’s performance was first class. The reception he got from the North Greenwich Arena crowd was amazing. The people in the crowd knew they had just seen the type of display that could win a medal. With a 15.600 score, he went into the lead.
So the pressure was on 27-year-old Berki, the six-time European and current World champion. No problem: Berki’s routine was smooth and clean - and he laid done the gauntlet with a score of 16.066.
Vitalii Nakonechnyi from Ukrane was next. His loss of rhythm and shape on his dismount handstand cost him with a score of 14.766. Russian David Belyavskiy lost rhythm too - and his score suffered, meaning Whitlock was a medalist when 14.733 was flashed up on the scoreboard.
All the while, Smith had sat in earphones, looking calm and in the zone. His swinging was measured and his triple Russian was fantastic!
There was hope during the wait for the judges’ decision. It took a moment to sink it when the score of 16.066 was flashed up. The BBC television cameras were on Smith’s face when it dawned on him that he hadn’t done enough.