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Japanese protest leads to Ukrainian disappointment in men's gymnastics final

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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

LONDON – For 10 whole minutes, Ukraine's men's gymnastics team did the things that unexpected bronze medalists are supposed to do.

They stood at the western edge of the North Greenwich Arena, hugging, high-fiving, and celebrating a third-place finish that felt like gold.

They screamed into the air. They pumped their fists and sought out whatever fans they had in the place, mostly a few family members waving flags among a pro-Great Britain throng that included Princes William and Harry.

"It was a big emotion," said coach Yuliy Kuksenkov.

And then it was gone.

[ Photos: U.S. men's gymnastics team in action ]

A controversial scoring appeal of Japan's Kohei Uchimura's dismount from the pommel horse resulted in .700 points being added to his score. That small amount was enough to push Japan from fourth place at 271.252 to second at 271.952, mere decimal points for some, but for Ukraine, it meant the difference between delight and an empty-handed return home.

China remained the gold medalists by a great margin. Great Britain was pushed to third but scarcely cared, so unexpected was their own run for the podium.

It was the Ukrainians who lost out and couldn't quite accept this tortured outcome.

"We did not expect [the appeal]," said Kuksenkov, searching desperately for diplomacy but finding it elusive. "We are not blind, everyone has their own opinion, everyone has their own vision about it. We think we deserve the medals."

The judges, however, watched the video of Uchimura's dismount repeatedly, a huddle of sports-coat-clad officials circling a television monitor. They talked among themselves and pointed at the video to make sure he got both feet down.

 [ Related: Jordyn Wieber falls short of all-around competition ]

While the men from Ukraine celebrated originally, Uchimura's face carried the opposite emotion. He knew that with everything on the line and a pocketful of silver awaiting him, he had forgotten his lines. The three-time world champion had held his nerve in some of the toughest arenas in gymnastics. But this was the Olympics.

As he made a final twist and prepared to make his landing from the horse he overextended, lost balance for a split second and toppled awkwardly from the apparatus.

"I knew I had made a mistake, so I was sure that the score would not be too high anyway," Uchimura said. "I was not expecting a lot. I saw the score and the team leader said we were going to protest. Of course, it is better to get silver than no medal at all. I wanted to land it better, but it was a mistake."

And almost the most costly of his career.

[ Related: Poland’s Natalia Partyka will compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics ]

Originally, he was credited not with a dismount but with a fall. A gymnast receives no points for a fall. However, even a clumsy exit from the horse, as long as the gymnast gets two feet down, counts for some points.

Once the giant scoreboard in the middle of the gymnastics hall announced the appeal had been accepted, the fortunes of the teams spun.

The Japanese began celebrating wildly as they moved from fourth to silver. The crowd booed the decision for a moment as they realized Great Britain was relegated to bronze, but the reaction was brief.

It was the Ukrainians who hung their heads, picked up their backpacks, and left the gymnastics hall in disbelief. Moments before, they had cheered their fortune. They then waited nervously for the appeal. And then it all sank in.

Their reign as the bronze-medalist team was just 10 minutes long.

"Life is life," Kuksenkov said.

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