Women's Gymnastics: Tiebreaker keeps Raisman from bronze

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LONDON -- Aly Raisman grabbed the sides of her warm-up jacket -- at just about the place where a medal would have hung -- and did what she always has done.

She held it together.

There's a stoicism to the captain of the U.S. women's gymnastics team that endears her to coaches and teammates alike. She never gets nervous, so unfazed by the bright arena lights it's as if she's just getting in a workout, not competing on her sport's biggest stage.

After the most gut-wrenching moment of her career, Raisman relied on that toughness more than ever, saying all the right things -- as usual -- when a tiebreaker let a bronze medal slip through her grasp in the women's all-around finals.

Raisman 18, the oldest of the team's five teenagers, praised gold medal-winning and fame-bound teammate Gabby Douglas after she became the first African-American -- well, the first person of any color actually -- to win the Olympic title.

Raisman didn't criticize the International Gymnastics Federation for its straightforward ruling that gave the bronze to Russian Aliya Mustafina. The two finished with the same score of 59.566, but it was Mustafina who stood on the podium next to Douglas and silver medalist Viktoria Komova also of Russia because the total of Mustafina's three best events was higher than Raisman's by more than half a point.

Raisman, an ever-polite kid from Needham, Mass., didn't even get mad at the tactless way she learned she was leaving O2 Arena empty-handed. Rather than be told by a FIG official or even someone from the U.S. coaching staff, Raisman didn't know the outcome until a media member explained it to her.

"I'm more sad than angry," Raisman said.

She was mad at herself more than anybody else, pointing the finger in the mirror rather than place blame elsewhere. It's not Mustafina's fault that Raisman struggled on balance beam, her best event.

"She didn't do anything wrong," Raisman said. "She had a good competition too."

Mustafina, whose icy glare runs as deep as a Russian winter, hopped off during her routine on the beam. She then stormed away following the dismount, brushing off a coach as she tried to compose herself.

"I was almost 100 percent sure that I wouldn't get to medal," Mustafina said.

All Raisman needed was a typical set on beam to put herself in position to give the U.S. team two all-around medalists for consecutive games. Yet in a packed arena awash in American flags and on an event where she's among the best in the world, Raisman flinched. Usually so serene it appears she's working out on top of your kitchen table, not a 4-inch wide piece of wood, Raisman bent over after a front somersault and put both hands down to regain her balance.

"I don't know what happened," Raisman's coach Mihai Brestyan said.

Even U.S. women's team coordinator Martha Karolyi, sitting in the stands with the rest of Team USA, was stunned. "Beam is her strongest event. She's very solid like a rock. I don't know what happened to her mind [Thursday]."

Brestyan has an idea.

Raisman had what U.S. coach John Geddert called "the meet of her life" in qualifying, posting the top score by an American and knocking best friend and reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber out of the all-around finals. It was a stunning result. Raisman has spent years on the fringe of the spotlight. When it was finally thrust upon her, she couldn't enjoy it. The story from qualifying wasn't Raisman's sublime performance, but the rules that allow only two competitors per country in the finals, squeezing out Wieber, who finished fourth but was the third-best American.

• Gabby Douglas wins all-around, Story, Page A-1.



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