London 2012 – Day 2: New Rising

 London 2012 breakout star, South Africa’s Cameron Van Der Burgh, set a new world record and won gold in the 100 meter breaststroke final.  Of other note from the race, Brenden Hansen (of Team USA) came out of retirement to challenge Olympic rival Kitajima (Japan) one last time.  During the previous two summer games, Kitajima (the two-time defending Olympic champion) held Hansen from Olympic gold.  Today, Hansen took the bronze medal in a bittersweet medal victory while Kitajima did not.  But as Van Der Burgh and these Olympics have proven, the proverbial torch is being passed to the younger, rising talents – the time for old rivalries has passed and the dawn of the new stars is upon us.

In other aqua news:  US swimmer Dana Vollmer established a new world record and won gold in the women’s 100 meter butterfly.  Vollmer competed against previous record-setter Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, who finished fourth.  French swimmer Camille Muffat took home a gold medal in a heated swim against USA’s Allison Schmitt in the women’s 400 meter freestyle.  US swimmers Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman both qualified for the 100 meter backstroke final, but the battle to watch will be between Grevers and French swimmer Camille Lacourt, whose semi-final times were separated by less than four tenths of a second.

In the last final of the night, the 4 x 100 relay, the French swimming team of four barely defeated the Americans to claim gold.  The heavy favorite in the event was the fourth-place-finishing Australia.  Beyond the waters of the Olympic pool, American gymnast Gabby Douglas, a charismatic competitor with an amazing story of persevearance, wore a vibrant smile.  Douglas earned the highest score for the American women on the uneven bars and delivered solid performances on the vault and balance beam, while delivering a shaky floor program.

Despite her floor exercise, Douglas qualified for the all-around finals, upsetting fellow USA gymnast Jordyn Wieber, who failed to qualify for the all-around finals (because of the two per country rule), despite being the reigning world champion.  Wieber’s fate was sealed by the solid floor routine by Aly Raisman, who joins Douglas in the finals.  Though, Weiber will still help Team USA compete for the women’s final and compete in the floor exercise final, it doesn’t make her exclusion any less controversial.

Wieber will find herself likely in the top five all-around gymnasts competing in London, yet because of the “two per country rule,” she’ll not be able to compete in the top 24, knocked out of the final by a mere 0.233 points.  Hearbreak that has many calling for a change in the rules because as one commentator put it, “the twenty-four best all-around gymnasts will not be competing in the all-around final.”

Speaking of all-around finals and gymnastics, casual fans of the sport can’t help but wonder where 2008 Olympians Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson are in 2012.  Those of you that remember know that Liukin was the all-around gold medalist and collected five Olympic medals in Beijing 2008 – tieing Mary Lou Retton and Shannon Miller for most Olympic medals won by an American gymnast in a single Olympic games.  Beside Liukin was Johnson, the all-around silver medalist.  Both athletes competed in the Olympic trials, so why aren’t they competing parts of Team USA?

Liukin had the unfortunate circumstance, or literal fall from grace, if you will.  During the three-day process to qualify for London 2012, Liukin fell several times and scored low, bringing her gymnastic career to a screeching halt.  Like Liukin, Johnson’s gymnastic career ended this year as well due to nagging knee issues stemming from a previous injury – a torn ACL in 2010.  Unfortunately for Team USA, its media darlings of 2008 are names of the past, but their absence gives rise to a new crop of talent poised for competition.

Overall, another exciting and nail-biting night of Olympic competition as records were broken, gold medals were earned, and new stars continued to shine.