Tears of triumph as Britain make first final for 88 years

 

the north greenwich arena

Louis Smith shed tears of joy and relief after his successful pommel-horse routine crowned a marvellous day for the British men's team, who will appear in an Olympic gymnastics final for the first time since 1924.

Smith won bronze on the pommel horse in Beijing four years ago, and he broke down after completing his work on the apparatus yesterday. He was awarded a score of 15.8, better than any other competitor, and he will be positive about his chances of claiming a medal in next Sunday's individual final.

While Smith's performance was no surprise, Team GB's overall display was an improvement on some predictions, especially as they did not even compete in the team event in 2008. Max Whitlock will join Smith in the eight-man pommel-horse final next Sunday, while Kristian Thomas goes forward to the vault final a week tomorrow. Thomas and Daniel Purvis qualified for the men's individual all-round final, which takes place on Wednesday.

It was Smith, though, who shouldered the greatest medal hopes, and this was reflected in his emotional reaction as he savoured the applause. "It was the best feeling in the world when I landed that pommel-horse routine," the 23-year-old said. "There has been a lot of pressure to perform at these Olympics. I thought of the support I've had from friends, family and my sponsors, and I remembered losing my grandma, who was a very big part of my life, in 2009.

"There was a lot riding on my pommel-horse routine. I couldn't stop thinking about the future, my family and the expectation, so it was nice to get through that routine. It's been a long old journey to get here, but this is the pinnacle, to compete in your home Olympics.

"We went out there and showed what we were capable of, and you could see what it meant to the guys from their smiles."

After three subdivisions – in which teams and individuals compete against one another in six disciplines – Great Britain were third on the leaderboard, ahead of 2008 team champions China. Their total of 272.42 points put them 2.4 ahead of the Beijing gold medallists and was inferior only to the United States on 275.34, and Russia's 272.60.

Points do not carry over to tomorrow, when Smith, Purvis, Thomas, Whitlock and Sam Oldham return to North Greenwich to challenge seven other groups for the medals.

If Smith's tears were the iconic image of the day, Kieran Behan's journey to London 2012 was its most uplifting tale.

When Ireland's Behan, at age 10, needed a benign tumour removed from his leg, complications in the operation left him in a wheelchair. He returned to training but at 12 he suffered a severe head injury that again threatened his mobility.

"To be told you're never going to step out of a wheelchair and then to step into an Olympic arena is just a dream come true," said Behan, who did not progress through qualifying.

Olympics in brief

One day in, one doper out

The first drugs disqualification of the Olympics. Hysen Pulaku, the magnificently monikered Albanian weightlifter, has been sent home by the IOC for testing positive for the banned steroid stanozolol. The 19-year-old, who was due to compete in the 77kg division, took the failed test on Wednesday, and was suspended by Albania on Friday.

Irish keep boxing clever

Republic of Ireland has only won 23 Olympic medals, but all three they won at Beijing were in boxing and they stepped in the right direction yesterday through John Joe Nevin. The 23-year-old bantamweight from Mullingar beat Denmark's Dennis Ceylan 21-6 in the last 32. He will fight Kanat Abutalipov from Kazakhstan in the last 16 on Wednesday.

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