By Caroline Stauffer
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – An “empty brain” contributed to China leaving Rio without any gymnastics gold medals, its worst showing since returning to the Games in 1984, after three competitors missed out on podium places on Tuesday.
China, usually a major player in the sport, claimed only two medals in gymnastics in Rio: bronze for its men’s and women’s teams. It was a long fall from the 2008 Beijing Games when it dominated the sport as host and claimed both the men’s and women’s team titles.
Deng Shudi, who finished just out of the medals in fourth in the parallel bars final on Tuesday, said the pressure was high going into the competition.
“I didn’t get to sleep until 2 or 3 a.m… I just couldn’t fall asleep,” he said. “I just don’t know what happened. My brain is empty.”
Things got worse. Immediately after Deng finished his routine, You Hao ended China’s competition in the men’s events by completing his parallel bars dismount with a fall and finishing last.
China’s sports system had been enormously successful since the country returned to the Olympic fold in 1984, culminating with the host nation topping the medals table at the 2008 Games it hosted with only a slight dip into second place behind the United States in London four years later.
Japan ended their Asian rivals’ eight-year reign as Olympic men’s team champions last week even after China had come out of qualifying on top.
The Chinese team, comprising of Deng, You, Lin Chaopan, Zhang Chenglong and Liu Yang sat back dejectedly in their chairs after Russia took silver, with Zhang breaking down in tears afterwards backstage.
That bronze was the men’s only gymnastics medal in Rio. China won seven out of eight men’s golds in Beijing eight years ago.
Though she looked pleased with her performance, Wang Yan, 16, finished fifth in the women’s floor final that followed the parallel bars on Tuesday.
The women’s competition has been dominated by the United States, who claimed the team title, and American Simone Biles who won a record-equaling fourth gold on Tuesday.
China took four gymnastics gold medals in London in 2012, when its women won gold and silver on the balance beam.
The country did not participate in the Olympics between 1956 and 1984.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon)