By Colleen Stopforth
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Belarussian Uladzislau Hancharou upstaged world champion Gao Lei and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Dong Dong to soar to victory in trampoline gymnastics at the Rio Games on Saturday.
Hancharou performed four high-flying triple somersaults to become the first gymnast from his country to win a trampoline medal with a score of 61.745. It was also Belarus’ second gold of these Games.
Fist-pumping his way through his out-bounce, the 20-year-old looked confident of success.
“It was an explosion of feelings,” he told journalists after the competition.
A gracious Dong who had just packed a massive 25 somersaults into 10 skills sportingly gave Hancharou’s performance the thumbs up when he realized he had been overtaken at the top of the standings by a man who had never before won a global meet.
Although the defending champion’s bid to win back-to-back Olympic golds ended with a second-place finish (60.535), 27-year-old Dong did become the first man to win trampoline medals at three different Games.
Gao had high hopes of succeeding Dong as champion as he had drawn the top score in qualifying. However, Hancharou’s score had piled on the pressure and the group leader broke his lines and appeared to lose control slightly as he struggled to land on the big red cross target while showcasing his 10 elements.
The new champion’s victory may signal a changing of the guard in trampoline’s top flight. Just minutes after taking the title the Belarusian’s sights were already set on a win in Tokyo while Dong hesitated to commit to the grind of another Olympic cycle.
“Right now I feel very tired and I don’t know yet,” he said.
(Writing by Pritha Sarkar, Editing by Alison Williams, Meredith Mazzilli and Susanna Twidale)