RIO DE JANEIRO — Simone Biles’ golden run in Rio is picking up steam. So, surprisingly, is Britain’s.
Biles added a third gold medal to her rapidly rising haul on Sunday, easily capturing the women’s vault final. The 19-year-old helped the “Final Five” to team gold and also dominated the all-around competition last week, averaged 15.966 on her two vaults on Sunday to become the first American woman to win the event at the Olympics.
Minutes after Biles picked up the first vault gold medal ever by an American female gymnast, British star Max Whitlock earned his second gold of the day — and the second ever for his country in gymnastics — when he won the pommel horse to back up his victory earlier in the afternoon on floor exercise.
While the day may belong to Whitlock, the games belong to Biles. Her score was more than .7 better than silver medalist Maria Paseka and bronze medalist Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland, showcasing the gap between Biles and the rest of the world.
Going last among the eight female finalists, Biles drilled her Amanar — a round off onto the block followed by 2 1/2 twists — and put up a 15.9 to take the lead. Needing only to land her second vault to win, Biles was near perfect. Her score of 16.033 for her “Cheng” was the best of the night.
Biles’ three golds in Rio are also the most by a female gymnast from the U.S. in one Olympics. The gold also gives Biles 17 world championship or Olympic medals, the most ever by an American woman. She will get a chance to stand atop the podium again when she competes in the balance beam finals on Monday and the floor exercise final on Tuesday.
India’s Dipa Karmakar made history by being the first female gymnast from her country to compete in the Olympics and make an event final by finishing fourth. Oksana Chusovitina’s seventh trip to the Olympics ended with a seventh-place finish for the 41-year-old from Uzbekistan. Chusovitina said afterward she’s already planning to train all the way to the 2020 games in Tokyo.
Whitlock became the first gymnast from Britain to win Olympic gold by edging Brazil’s Diego Hypolito in the men’s floor exercise final. Whitlock’s score of 15.633 was just enough to edge Hypolito, who finished with a 15.533. Arthur Mariano of Brazil earned bronze for the host country.
American Sam Mikulak finished eighth, his routine disrupted by an explosion from the rowdy crowd inside Rio Olympic Arena, which burst into applause when Mikulak — going last — made a mistake to assure the Brazilians of two medals.
Mikulak said he “got pretty rattled” by the noise.
The Americans did receive a jolt of good news for the U.S. men’s program, which finished fifth in the team competition and failed to pick up a medal in the all-around last week, when Alex Naddour picked up bronze on pommels behind Whitlock and rival and teammate Louis Smith.
Surprisingly, the Americans’ spot in the mix at the top has been taken by the Brits, who have revamped their program in recent years, winning a team bronze in London four years ago. They finally have their first two golds thanks to the 23-year-old Whitlock.