Olympics Rio 2016

Ri dedicates gold to North Korea

North Korea's Ri Se Gwang salutes as his country's national anthem is played during the medal ceremony. The 31-year-old crushed his vault rivals with the hardest combination of two jumps to add Olympic gold to his two world titles in 2014 and 2015.
North Korea's Ri Se Gwang salutes as his country's national anthem is played during the medal ceremony. The 31-year-old crushed his vault rivals with the hardest combination of two jumps to add Olympic gold to his two world titles in 2014 and 2015.

RIO DE JANEIRO • Ri Se Gwang had tears in his eyes as he stood to attention on the Rio podium on Monday, giving a military-style salute as North Korea's national anthem blasted out after his gold in the men's vault.

The 31-year-old gymnast from Pyongyang crushed his rivals with the hardest combination of two jumps to add Olympic gold to his two world titles in 2014 and 2015 on the apparatus.

Ri is North Korea's third gymnast to win an Olympic gold and the first on the vault. Hong Un Jong, the 2008 Olympic champion, was fourth in the women's vault on Sunday.

The latest North Korean star praised his country and its leader Kim Jong Un, a response that nearly all North Korean athletes use when on the world stage.

"I was filled with a lot of emotions and joy because I feel I was able to bring a sense of victory and courage to our leader," he said.

"It does not mean anything to me. It is a gift that I present to my country. This gold medal is joy for my country."

South Korea's Yang Hak Seon won in London 2012 but did not defend his title.

"I had the confidence that I could win. With that confidence, I came to Brazil," Ri added.

"I think I was able to come to where I am thanks to the great support and encouragement from my coach and from my team-mate.

"I wanted to win this gold medal for all the love I have received from my country."

Ri scored 15.691 points to take the title ahead of Russian Denis Abliazin (15.516), who also had to settle for silver at London 2012.

It was the third medal in Rio for Abliazin, who won the team silver and bronze on the rings.

Japan's Kenzo Shirai snatched bronze ahead of Romanian veteran Marian Dragulescu.

Both scored 15.499 points with Shirai achieving a higher execution score.

"My No. 1 objective was to win the team gold medal," said Shirai.

"So this (bronze medal) doesn't change the fact that the team gold medal won last week was the happiest moment for me."

Dragulescu said: "It is a pity that they don't give ties here, but it's the game."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Ri dedicates gold to North Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe