Bull finishes Olympic debut with fifth-place finish in horizontal bar final

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Photo Courtesy of Tyson Bull's Instagram

Former Illini Tyson Bull sits atop the Olympic rings in Tokyo before heading home to Australia. Bull finished his Olympic debut in fifth-place in the horizontal bar.

By Bradley Zimmerman, Staff Writer

Illinois gymnastics alum Tyson Bull wrapped up his first Olympic games last Tuesday when he competed in the horizontal bar final. The first Illini gymnast to compete in the Olympics since Justin Spring in 2008, Bull made history for both Australia and Illinois gymnastics by qualifying for and competing in the final; no male artistic gymnast affiliated with either team had ever done so in any event.

Bull finished the final in fifth place with a score of 12.466.

It was a rough round of competition for Bull. He qualified for the final with a score of 14.433, but errors early in his performance ensured that he would not match that score in the final. A fall later in his performance further damaged his score, lowering it by a full point.

Bull wasn’t the only one to fall off the bar and see a final score lower than his qualifying score.

Kazakhstan’s Milad Karimi, Japan’s Takeru Kitazono and the Netherlands’ Bart Deurloo all fell at least once during their performances, resulting in scores that were more than two points below their qualifying scores. The United States’ Brody Malone didn’t fall, but he was unable to hold one of his handstands and subsequently swung down on the wrong side of the bar. That, along with a small step on his dismount, also resulted in a final score lower than his qualifying score, but only by a third of a point.

Bull was not available for comment, but according to Illini associate head coach Daniel Ribeiro, Bull’s personal coach during his time in Champaign, Bull and his fellow finalists were having an issue with the bar itself.

“He was telling me throughout the week that almost all of the guys were having trouble with the bar because the bar was very slow, which means the bar bends very slowly,” Ribeiro said. “Sometimes it’s very tight and it snaps you right off on releases. Sometimes it’s very loose. Tyson had a hard time with this particular skill that he was doing when the bar was slow, and unfortunately, he rushed it, and he fell on that skill.”

Something else that may have affected Bull was the psychological effect of watching Karimi, Malone and Kitazono compete before him. The errors and mistakes these three gymnasts made opened the door for Bull to outperform and outscore them, but according to Ribeiro, that can put added pressure on gymnasts competing after.

“You’d think the pressure would be low because you’re like, ‘Oh my god, what an opportunity,’” Ribiero said. “But in reality, you see this snowball effect. If it’s a really good final, everyone’s hitting, but if it starts to be a really bad final, it snowballs out of control.”

On the other hand, three gymnasts did improve upon their qualifying scores. The improvements were marginal, but amidst a field of gymnasts who could not improve their scores, these three gymnasts ended up on the podium.

Japan’s Daiki Hashimoto, who won the gold medal in the men’s individual all-around competition earlier in the Olympics, went into the final with the highest qualifying score and finished with the highest final score, winning the horizontal bar gold medal with a 15.066. Croatia’s Tin Srbic won silver with a score of 14.900 and the Russian Olympic Committee’s Nikita Nagornyy won bronze with a score of 14.533.

The remainder of the field finished with Malone in fourth (14.200), Bull in fifth (12.466), Kitazono in sixth (12.333), Deurloo in seventh (12.266) and Karimi in eighth (11.266). Everyone but Karimi either placed the same as they did in qualifying or better.

Ribeiro attributed Bull’s placement in the final to the way he finished his performance after falling.

“He kept it together and finished like a champion,” Ribeiro said. “That’s the reason why his fall had less impact than the other guys who had multiple blunders. That’s why he finished in fifth when he went into the finals in seventh. He moved up two spots because of the way he finished.”

Having coached Bull one-on-one during his time at Illinois, Ribeiro has developed a very close bond with him. Watching Bull compete in the Olympics brings not only a sense of pride and excitement to Ribeiro, but it also serves as a reminder of why he coaches up-and-coming gymnasts.

“This is what I do it for,” Ribeiro said. “So they can achieve their dreams. Competing in the finals at the Olympics is a dream come true for (Bull). To see it come true and watch him in primetime in the final was amazing.”

@B_RadZimm