LONDON, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Yang Hak-seon almost staggered off the mat before stumbling into the record books as he became the first South Korean gymnast to strike gold at the Olympics with victory in the men’s vault final on Monday.
The 19-year-old world champion lived up to his billing as favourite after he earned an average score of 16.533 from his two vaults, edging out Russia’s Denis Ablyazin on 16.399.
"This medal was an opportunity …I had to grab that opportunity," Yang told reporters through a translator.
Yang powered down the 20-metre runway and launched into a spectacular triple-twisting front somersault, which he invented and is now named after him.
The “oohs and aahhs” that accompanied his soaring flight through the air were replaced by stunned gasps as he almost ran off the mat on landing.
But so high was the difficulty of the leap, with a D-score of 7.400 which was 0.2 higher than any of the jumps performed by his rivals, he still drew 16.466.
Yang then trumped that effort with a triple twisting Tsukahara and went off on a victory lap long before his second score of 16.600 flashed up.
The Seoul-born gymnast was the only one out of the eight finalists to get a higher score with his second jump and had his coaches leaping for joy when he nailed his second dismount.
"Gymnastics is not a very popular sport in Korea. I hope younger people will look at me and have a bit more confidence to go into gymnastics, to go in that direction," Yang added.
Ukraine’s Igor Radivilov picked up bronze.
Enrique Tomas Gonzalez Sepulveda stood out from the crowd with his moustache and left eye-brow piercing but Chile’s first gymnastics Olympian could not create the same effect with his two jumps and finished fourth.
Kristian Thomas raised hopes of a fifth medal for Britain in what is already the most successful Olympic gymnastics competition for the hosts when he earned 16.366 with his high-flying debut effort.
But his hopes came crashing down after he landed on his bottom following his second jump to finish last. (Additional reporting by Rosalba O’Brien, editing by Peter Rutherford and Jason Neely)