LONDON – With a big smile and even bigger performance, Gabby Douglas, the high-flying 16-year-old out of Virginia Beach, held off a strong and dramatic challenge by Russian Victoria Komova to win gold in the women's gymnastics all-around final on Thursday.
Douglas led throughout but needed to deliver a near flawless routine on the floor exercise, the final of four rotations, and then wait out the floor effort by Komova, who needed a 15.360 to win gold.
She got only a 15.100.
As the score dramatically flashed on the screen, Komova broke into tears in her coaches' arms and Douglas flashed one of her signature grins and jumped in celebration as chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" rained down.
[ Photos: Gymnastics all-around championship ]
American Aly Raisman, of suburban Boston, actually tied Mustafina at 59.566, but she finished in a heart-breaking fourth place after losing the tiebreaker. In case of a tie, the lowest score is thrown out and each competitors' top three are calculated. Mustafina was higher.
Douglas took the overall lead on the vault, the first of her four rotations, and then never relinquished it despite strong challenges from the Russians, who were determined to excel at the all-around after being blown out by the Americans in the team competition on Tuesday.
Douglas, deemed "The Flying Squirrel" due to high-wire routines, landed a meet-best 15.966 on the vault to assume the early lead. She followed it with a sharp 15.733 on the uneven bars, managing to maintain a gap.
Douglas then delivered a brilliant performance on the balance beam, scoring a meet-best 15.500 to give herself a 0.326 cushion going into the floor exercise. Her best moment was landing a full flip with a twist on beam just moments after Mustafina, the 2010 world champion, fell attempting the same complex maneuver.
The final rotation was the floor exercise. Douglas delivered a 15.033, then had to wait nervously as Raisman and Komova got the final two chances. It's common in gymnastics for scores to increase as the competition goes on. In this case, it wasn't enough.
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Douglas becomes the first African American to win the Olympic women's all-around. She follows Nastia Liukin (2008) and Carly Patterson (2004) to give America the overall individual champion three Olympics running.
Raisman was the surprise in qualifying, posting the best score of the Americans and effectively knocking out 2011 world champion Jordyn Wieber. Each nation is capped at having just two participants in the finals.
[ Related: Jordyn Wieber's classy move after Gabby's gold ]
Raisman was unable to equal her performance on Sunday, however, delivering a few too many mistakes to keep up with Douglas, Komova, and Mustafina.
Needing a huge performance in her strongest event, floor, Raisman registered a meet-best 15.133. It turned out to be just 0.001 too low or she would have earned bronze.
Women's gymnastics will stage its individual event finals on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, with all five of the American gymnasts qualified in at least one event, so the United States' haul of gold should continue into next week.
Douglas, however, is now the unquestioned champion of women's gymnastics.
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