To understand the missed opportunity available to the U.S. men’s gymnastics team, forget everything you think you know about a fourth-place finish in the Olympics.
With the medals in men’s team gymnastics almost assured of going to Russia, Japan and China, Team USA could’ve felt good about finishing one spot behind the three international powers, beating rival Great Britain and stamping progress from recent Olympics.
A modest goal? For sure. But there would’ve been no tears of devastation like most fourth-place finishers.
Instead the U.S. was edged by Great Britain — a margin of 1.166 points separated the two — and finished in fifth Monday for the third straight Olympics, ever since winning a bronze in 2008. The U.S. was a distant fourth after the qualifying round, but scores do not carry over to the finals.
Russia won gold for the first time since 1996, followed by Japan for silver and China for bronze.
The U.S. outscored Great Britain on parallel bars, rings and horizontal bar but the script was flipped on floor exercise, vault and pommel horse.
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Sam Mikulak — a 28-year-old three-time Olympian on the verge of retirement — and Brody Malone will represent the U.S. in the individual all-around competition Wednesday, while Malone (bar), Mikulak (parallel bars), Yul Moldauer (floor exercise) and Alec Yoder (pommel horse) will compete for event medals.
Mikulak stuck his landing on the vault to score a 14.466 and celebrated by high-fiving and hugging Russian team members, capturing the Olympic spirit. Moldauer’s 15.66-worthy vault was the Americans’ highest single score of the night.
The rotation called for the U.S. to start on two of its weaker events — pommel horse and rings. After dropping to sixth place, the strong comeback had a fourth-place finish in sight until the final rotation, when the veteran Mikulak faltered on floor exercise and scored just a 12.133, down from his 14.466 in qualifying.
“I’ll be honest, my old legs just were not ready for it,” Mikulak said, according to TeamUSA.org. “But at that point I was like, ‘Ah, what’s it really going to count? I’m just going to finish this up and we’ll chalk it up, proud of how everything went.’ ”