Triple champion Chen quits as China's aura fades

Three-time Olympic champion Chen Yibing announced his retirement from gymnastics on Monday, on a day when China's iron grip on the sport was weakened once again.

Dominant on home soil in Beijing four years ago, when they won nine of the 14 gymnastics gold medals at stake, China have occasionally looked a pale imitation of themselves in London.

Despite victories for the men's team and for Zou Kai in the men's floor exercise, China have seen their other Olympic titles wrenched from their grasp one by one.

Chen and He Kexin were the latest champions to lose their crowns, with Chen narrowly edged by Brazil's Arthur Zanetti in the men's rings final and He beaten by Russia's Aliya Mustafina on the uneven bars.

Chen kissed the apparatus after completing his routine and later revealed that it was a farewell kiss, bringing down the curtain on a career that has also seen him win eight World Championship golds and four Asian Games titles.

"I think there are more brilliant people coming out of China, younger and greater," he explained.

"There are many young athletes, and I'm sure they will have better results. I'm sure after my retirement there will be more champions to come out of China."

Chen said he had been surprised to see Zanetti win gold, describing the Brazilian's landing as "not great", but he said he felt that he had improved personally since his rings triumph four years ago.

"Today, compared to Beijing, I think I was better," he said.

"Psychologically and physically, I was well prepared. I was very familiar with my routine. I thought I performed better."

Like Chen, He was also the first gymnast to take to the floor in her event final, but she, too, had to suffer the agony of seeing her score bettered by a rival.

He finished with a score of 15.933, which was 0.200 points below Mustafina, but she said she was pleased by her performance.

"I'm quite happy and satisfied. I think I did what I could," she said.

"Physically I have trained myself to be very, very familiar with the routine. I mastered every move."

China's disappointment contrasted starkly with South Korea's joy at seeing Yang Hak-Seon claim the country's first ever Olympic gymnastics gold by triumphing in the men's vault final.

Yang finished above Russia's Denis Ablyazin and Igor Radivilov of Ukraine, and said he hoped to inspire Korean youngsters to seek to emulate his success.

"Korea's aim is to be in the top 10 in the total medal chart and I'm happy to contribute to that," said the 19-year-old, whose signature vault is a triple-twisting front somersault that bears his name.

"Gymnastics is not a very popular sport in Korea. But rather than trying to inspire people who are training at the moment, I'd like to inspire people who are a bit younger than me to have a go."

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