By Christy Sandmaier

On a day of Olympic firsts for their countries, Artem Dolgopyat (ISL), Rebeca Andrade (BRA) and Nina Derwael (BEL) made history inside the Ariake Gymnastics Centre on the first of three days of Event Finals. 

It was gold for each – Dolgopyat on floor (14.933), the first time on the Olympic podium for the men from Israel, on any event. He just edged out Rayderley Zapata of Spain in a tie break. For Andrade, the All-Around Silver Medalist, her gold medal on vault (15.083) was the first Olympic gold for a female gymnast from Brazil. And for Derwael (15.200), a two-time World bars champion, it was the first Olympic medal in history for Belgium in women’s gymnastics.

Andrade, who has risen from three torn ACLs to perform her best gymnastics ever at the Games, competed a huge Cheng and Amanar, with steps on the landing on each, leaving the door just slightly open. Her score held and her smile told the story – #OlympicHerStory. She would finally see her flag on the highest rung, the most cherished of places.

Derwael’s bars were true to her usual finesse – a symphony on the event she has all but owned this quad. She saved a slightly crooked toe on-full towards the end but it was enough. Upon learning of her win, Derwael was able to virtually connect with her family and couldn’t hold back the tears. It was yet another moment in these Games, where emotion poured out and was embraced.

Each of these athletes seized their opportunity to make history on the world’s biggest stage under immense pressure, and they are forever now Olympic Champions igniting celebrations in their countries and inspiring the next generation. Their impact has only just begun.

“I’m just incredibly happy. I think I’m still dreaming and I need to wake up and begin this day. It’s been an incredible journey and an incredible day,” Derwael said. “I’m going to cherish this forever.”

Great Britain’s Max Whitlock defended his Olympic gold from Rio on pommel horse (15.583), opening the rotation and never looking back. He was extremely emotional, tears in his eyes and so many deep breaths on the podium. What a moment for him!

Olympic All-Around Champion Sunisa Lee (USA) won bronze on bars, going first in the rotation and breaking up her normally connected Nabieva to Bhardwaj to Maloney. She scored 14.500 with a Difficulty score of 6.2, 6 tenths lower than what she has done all week in Tokyo. With one event to go – balance beam – Lee already has completed a medal collection of each color. 

Lee and Derwael have pushed each other to be better on bars and at their very best under the most pressure-filled situations. They are masters at execution, so it is in fact, their difficulty and connections on any given day which truly set them apart. Today belonged to Derwael. At the end of the night, she noted they are good friends. And before the competition even started, had stated, “we’re both gonna kill it” tonight for Finals. Which they did.

“People call this a rivalry but we’re really just both good at bars,” said Lee. In true Suni-style, this may be the understatement of the Games!

MyKayla Skinner (USA) who replaced Simone Biles (USA) on vault, made the most of her opportunity, winning silver in an epic battle for the podium. It was the Olympic story no one could have written, and a memory that will last a lifetime for Skinner, who was initially heartbroken following Qualifications, having been victim to the two-per country rule for Finals. Upon learning her chance to compete again was now real, Skinner Tweeted: “Doing this for Simone Biles. It’s Go Time, Baby.” Her Cheng and Amanar were two of the best she’s ever done and no one looked more excited to be back out on the podium than she did. For Skinner, who finally has her Olympic medal, silver for sure the shiniest color of all.

Jade Carey (USA) finished 8th on vault after a missed Cheng (she appeared to trip on her run and was only able to manage a Yurchenko tucked – essentially a timer). She rallied back with an Amanar, but there would  be no medal for Carey today. She has one more chance in Floor Finals tomorrow.

Also for the U.S., Yul Moldauer placed 6th on floor and Alec Yoder 6th on pommel horse.

Day two of Event Finals takes place tomorrow and features Men’s Rings and Vault, and Women’s Floor.

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Photos by Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics

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