LONDON — It was a look beyond stunned, something that would connote stunned, with a bit of bewilderment mixed in.
Aly Raisman had a score of 59.566. Russian Aliya Mustafina had a score of 59.566. But Mustafina was ranked No. 3 and Raisman was ranked No. 4. Aly Raisman was not going to get a medal in the all-around, and she had no idea why, and still didn’t a half-hour later as she was attempting to explain the decision to the inquiring reporters of the world.
She knew where things had gone wrong, all right. She had messed up the beam. But she had rebounded with a very nice floor exercise — a performance all the more noteworthy because she had been placed in the unenviable position of following a spectacular show put on by eventual gold-medal winner Gabby Douglas — and she was finding the idea of not getting a medal when she had the third-best score very hard to accept.
Fourth place in the Olympics is tough for anyone at any time. But fourth place when you think you’re at least tied for third is exponentially worse. So it’s pretty understandable why Aly Raisman of Needham, Mass., had that look on her face.
Aly already has a gold medal from the team competition, but who doesn’t want one, of any description, for your very own? She had come into this competition with very high hopes, but as she went into her fourth and final rotation, the floor exercise, she had to be smart enough to know that a gold was going to be out of the question, first because she had botched the beam, and second because no one in the world was going to best Gabby Douglas on Thursday. The Flying Squirrel brought her A-plus game, defeating silver medalist Victoria Komova, another Russian, by a score of 62.232 to 61.973, capping her day with a show-stopping floor routine.
“I feel sad because I was so close to a medal, but I’m still fourth in the world,” Raisman said.
Or maybe not. Tiebreakers are quite capricious.
The skinny is that Mustafina was awarded the bronze, as it turns out, by virtue of her overall “execution” scores. Her big moment had come on the uneven bars, where the judges gave her a 16.100, which clearly had something to do with it. But no one knows for sure, because no one outside of the judges knows the actual breakdown. All anyone, and that would include Raisman’s coach, Mihai Brestyan, knows is the total scores in each event, not the actual breakdown.
But no one had told Aly, who was under the mistaken impression that it had something to do with the time-honored method of tossing out the high and low scores, etc. Nope, that’s got nuthin’ to do with nuthin’.
It hardly matters. What does matter is that Aly came as close as you can come to getting a medal, and then not getting a medal.
She opened up with a solid vault that left her trailing only teammate Douglas after the first rotation. After the bars she had fallen to fourth, behind Douglas, Komova, and Mustafina. Then came her undoing.
She was wobbly on the beam, twice struggling to keep her balance. When she was finished, she had fallen to fifth.
“If she does a normal beam, she is in third place, no doubt,” said Brestyan. “I don’t know what happened. When she was competing for the team, she gave everything, but for herself she was different.”
She was last among eight in that beam rotation, and that might have had something to do with it. “I was last up, and it seemed like I was waiting a long time, and I was nervous,” she acknowledged.
When Gabby was done with her floor exercise, the gold was a given. And Komova had sewn up the silver. But Mustafina followed Raisman, who had been given a score of 15.133, and it was clear the bronze was going to be decided by her performance.
My gymnastic judging credentials are a bit skimpy, but it seemed rather obvious that Mustafina’s routine was not quite the equal of Raisman’s. But would it be good enough to squeak by her for the bronze? Mustafina and Komova wrapped their arms around each other and stared at the screen for what must have seemed to them like a month.
Finally, the score was flashed. Mustafina had received a 14.600, and that gave her a total of 59.566, same as Raisman. But she finished third and Raisman was fourth, and no one on the floor really knew why. Official clarification would come later.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Raisman said. “I was hoping they would give us both bronze medals, but they didn’t.”
Shellshocked though she may be, she’s got to pull herself together because there’s a lot more flipping and tumbling to come. She’s entered in both the beam and floor individual events, and she is the reigning bronze medalist in the floor, having taken third at the 2011 world championships in Tokyo.
“I’m still an Olympic champ at the end of the day,” she said, “and I’m honored to be here. I’ve got to try to stay positive and get ready for the next event.”
Now that’s the spirit.