"Four years of work and all I have to show for it is 50 seconds on the pommel horse," Louis Smith said a few weeks ago. In the end it came down to even finer margins – a 10th of a point being the difference between winning the first gold medal ever by a British male gymnast, and the silver which he took. He took it well, showing off the easy, magnetic personality with which he has attracted a following to British gymnastics. Smith's score tied with the winner, Krisztian Berki, but the Hungarian took gold for a fractionally higher execution score.
Max Whitlock, 19, pictured right with Smith, is the product of all the lottery money poured into the sport in Britain since Smith's bronze at the age of 19 in Beijing. He took third. Before his 50sec date with destiny, Smith knew that Berki had laid down a marker and so he was confronted by a game of Russian roulette. He cannot match a flawless Berki but he has made a trademark of making up the difference with supreme levels of difficulty. The decision was which of three levels to go for. He opted for the second, delivering him a 10th of a point more than the Hungarian.
He made that decision in the narrow minutes between Berki's performance and his own, the big fear being that if he opted for the riskier routine, it might have ended in the disaster of a dismount and wipeout. Smith had executed the third routine with its 7.1 score for difficulty, to fine effect at the British championships, though it hadn't been going the way he liked in the gym. "I could have gone with the harder one and fallen off and not even had the chance to sit on this table," Smith said. Last night's third level score would have been enough to take him to gold, had he gambled on it. The decision is one he must live with.