By Sportswriters Song Ying and Li Li
BEIJING, Aug. 17 (Xinhua)-- Deafening applause to a loser, not a winner.
Chinese veteran Cheng Fei remained a heroine in the eyes of spectators and her contenders on Sunday, although she failed to realize China's long-held dream to claim Olympic titles in women's vault and floor exercises.
As three-time world vault champion, Cheng led the field with a pair of extremely difficult vaults, with one named after her. The difficulty zenith, however, was shared by Cheng and Hong Unjong from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), leaving the Chinese veteran no advantage in the close competition on Sunday.
Loaded with the hope to make history, Cheng tumbled in her second jump in vault before home fans. More than half an hour later, she leaned backward in a series of somersaults in floor exercise, to the popular Chinese song "Yellow River".
A bronze in vault could not heal the pain in Cheng's heart. She could not hold her tears back after stepping out of the floor area.
Shawn Johnson from the United States gave Cheng a huge hug and Johnson's Chinese coach Qiao Liang patted Cheng on the back. Cheng burst into tears when the audiences greeted the gymnastic veteran with hails and deafening applause.
Despite the failure, medal winners showed respect for Cheng after the finals. "I felt sorry for her. To make it and make a mistake is hard, but she did a great job. No matter what, she is one of the most respected gymnasts out there. I hope she gets back out there and keeps going," said Johnson.
Romania's Sandra Izbasa, who claimed the title on floor, echoed Johnson's view by saying,"I know Cheng Fei is a great gymnast. She has trained very hard. Mistakes in competition are very normal. I feel so sorry for her tonight. I was really hoping we could go to the podium together."
"I think Cheng Fei is an excellent athlete, but I think maybe her physical condition was not too good today," Hong also said after the final.
Cheng explained later in the mixed zone,"The movement of my first vault was quite good. There was a mistake on the last half of the 'The Cheng Fei' jump, which is my second vault. I needed to adjust some of the techniques. I also had this problem last year, but I had a good feeling in the final. The feeling just suddenly came to me and I was able to complete it. I did not complete it this year because I failed to adjust it."
On her mistake on floor, Cheng added," During the break between vault and floor, I adjusted my emotions and I was peaceful. I only wanted to treat the competition as a performance. I didn't realize such difficulties would occur."
"It is probably my last time to take part in an Olympics, " Cheng said and wept.
Cheng may not compete in London in 2012 but she has lifted Chinese women gymnastics to a level it never reached.
At the Athens Olympic Games, Cheng Fei went out of sight of journalists by ending up fourth in floor exercise. Her day came at the Melbourne World Championships when Cheng staged a highly daring routine in vault which later bore her name.
The marvelous jump enabled Cheng to be the first Chinese lady to claim the world title in vault and become the first gymnast ever to successfully perform one of the most difficult vaults ever attempted by a woman. It is a gymnastic breakthrough of China and the world.
Before Cheng's emergence, Chinese female gymnasts have been strong contenders in uneven bars and balance beam while vault and floor titles evaded them for decades. The best result in the vault was that Mo Huilan captured the silver in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. China has been left on the sideline for almost ten years in the event.
The impressive performance in Melbourne injected a boost to Cheng and the Chinese women gymnastic team. Cheng successfully defended her vault title, added the floor gold with a mesmerizing routine and led China to the team gold as well. She became a star performer in 2007 and pocked her third straight gold in vault.