By Pritha Sarkar
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – No one would have guessed that Simone Biles’ “legs felt like rocks” as the standout gymnast of the 2016 Olympics soared higher and higher to win a record-equaling fourth gold on Tuesday.
A day after a slipped foot off the balance beam dashed the American’s hopes of leaving Rio with a record haul of five golds for a female gymnast, she was back to her hip-shaking best to clinch the floor title with 15.966 points, ahead of team mate Aly Raisman.
Biles was not the only one making amends for near misses and past disappointments on the final day of competition.
Oleg Verniaiev buried the heartache of losing the all-around gold to Kohei Uchimura by just 0.099 of a point as he earned Ukraine their first gold in Rio by winning the parallel bars title with a score of 16.041.
After a bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, flamboyant showman Fabian Hambuechen was finally leaping with joy as he became the first German gymnast in 20 years to strike gold with an electrifying routine on the horizontal bar.
It was not just those who were standing on the top of the podium who were celebrating at the Rio Games on Tuesday.
Danell Leyva left his coach and step-father Yin Alvarez theatrically sprinting down the dugout and exchanging high-fives with gray-suited officials as the 24-year-old picked up two silvers behind Verniaiev and Hambuechen.
For Leyva, the medals were especially gratifying because had team mate John Orozco not suffered a knee injury in the run-up to the Games, he would never have received the last minute call-up that made him the most successful American man in Rio.
“You have to believe within yourself that you can do more than what people expect,” summed up Leyva.
When it comes to Biles, however, those expectations have no boundaries.
FIVE-GOLD DREAM DISAPPEARED
Hence when her five-gold dream disappeared on Monday after she had to grab the beam with both hands to avoid slipping off completely, there was a sense of anti-climax hanging in the air even though she had already won three golds.
If the 19-year-old could not have a gymnastics record outright, there was no way she was going to miss out on at least having a share of a landmark.
A sultry floor routine full of hip-swinging moves to samba music had the Brazilian spectators on their feet as Biles flew high into the air to execute her trademark element, a soaring double layout with half-twist at the end.
She was so high off the floor, that her rivals would have needed to grow wings if they wanted to catch her — and even then it would not have been enough.
Cries of “oohs” and “aahs” accompanied each of her complex tumbling passes, she drew gasps of admiration as she balanced her entire body weight on her right toes while spinning around twice and had the audience roaring their approval as she bounced her bottom off the floor to strike her final pose.
The ear-to-ear grin, which had disappeared on Monday after she ended up with bronze on the beam, was back on show again as she became the first woman in 32 years, and fifth overall, to win four golds at a single Games.
“It’s very crazy. To think what I’ve done, it’s been an amazing experience and I don’t think I could be more proud of myself,” said the team, all-around, vault and floor champion.
So was she disappointed on missing out on the outright record?
“Your first Olympics you walk away with five medals, that’s not tough at all,” said Biles. “Especially four being gold, that’s just unheard of. I’m very proud.”
The Soviet Union’s Larisa Latynina (Melbourne 1956), Hungary’s Agnes Keleti(Melbourne 1956), Czech Vera Caslavska (Mexico City 1968) and Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo (Los Angeles 1984) were the only other women to have four golds at a single Games.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)