Dylan Schmidt has won New Zealand's first Olympic medal in trampoline gymnastics, his bronze tonight in Tokyo coming after a dramatic final in which several athletes struggled to finish their routines.
The 24-year-old qualified third for the final behind Belarusian Uladzilsau Hancharou, the reigning Olympic champion, and his countryman 20-year-old Ivan Litvinovich, and Schmidt was in the silver medal position until Litvinovich overtook leader Dong Dong from China and Schmidt for the gold medal.
Dong, 32, the gold medallist in London in 2012 and a veteran competing in his fourth and final Olympics, had looked a shoo-in for gold until Litvinovich, who qualified first and therefore jumped last, snatched it from him with a score of 61.715. Dong recorded 61.235 and Schmidt 60.675.
"It's surreal," Schmidt told Sky Sport afterwards. "I worked so hard to be here. It just feels right, I can't explain it. To finally be here and it to be real and tangible and holding this medal, I'm speechless.
"It's huge for me, honestly, to be the first New Zealander to represent New Zealand in trampolining and then to come here five years later and win a medal alongside another amazing trampolinist from New Zealand [Madaline Davidson, 10th in her event] who also made history… I just hope there are more eyes on the sport because it's such a fun sport. I love it. I've enjoyed all of the 18 years I've been doing it."
Schmidt was seventh at Rio, where he was New Zealand's first Olympic trampoline gymnast, and he was confident of a good showing in Tokyo after a relatively injury-free last six months.
He had looked good for a medal from the off at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre and his chances of one improved as Russian Olympic Committee athlete Andrey Yudin and Australian Dominic Clarke leaped into trouble near the end of their final routines and failed to finish.
Earlier, in the qualifying routine, four athletes failed to finish, including Gao Lai from China, the bronze medallist in Rio, with Gao landing fully on the protective mat on one end of the trampoline.
"It was a solid prelims," Schmidt said. "It wasn't perfect, there were some mistakes. But it was enough to get me in the final and obviously it was game time once I was in the final. I nailed the start. One skill maybe was a little rough but I fought back and brought it back. There was only .110 between third and fourth so that fightback pretty much got me on the podium."
After completing his final routine, Schmidt, who began trampolining as a child in the South Island town of Te Anau and took lessons at the behest of his mother who was worried he'd hurt himself, raised his hands, closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief.
However, he said the night before the competition his heart rate was down to 39 beats per minute – "It's never been that low before," he said.
"I was calm, I was so ready. I did feel like something was going to happen today. I knew I was in a good place."
And he added: "In three years we'll be in Paris [for 2024 Olympics] so who knows. I love this sport. I'm just so passionate about it, so it's definitely not the last one."