French gymnast who broke leg at Rio Olympics qualifies for Tokyo after father’s death

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STUTTGART, Germany — French gymnast Samir Aït Saïd took a moment for himself while he posed for podium photos after the world championships still rings final.

He lifted the bronze medal that was draped around his neck, looked toward the ceiling of the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle and pointed up there. He kissed the medal and lifted it even higher, above his head, and shook it repeatedly.

“I hope he was proud,” he said.

Aït Saïd dedicated the medal, and the tears welling in his eyes during interviews, to his father, who died last winter of lung cancer, according to French team officials.

It wasn’t just the world championships medal, the first of the 29-year-old’s career. Aït Saïd also qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by getting on the still rings podium.

He was the very last gymnast to go on Saturday. He knocked reigning Olympic and three-time defending world champion Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece off the podium and out of Olympic qualification. Petrounias can still qualify for Tokyo via another route next year, but it will not be easy.

Aït Saïd knows all about hardship. He is best known for a horrific scene: fracturing his left tibia and fibula on a vault landing in Rio Olympic qualifying and getting carted away on a stretcher. He also missed the 2012 London Games after sustaining three right tibia fractures at the European Championships, also on vault.

The day after his Rio injury, he said in a video taken at the hospital, “believe me, the Tokyo 2020 adventure is still in the cards. … We’ll go for that Olympic gold.”

Aït Saïd’s father was in the Rio Olympic Arena when he broke his leg. When Aït Saïd vowed to come back for Tokyo, his father promised that he would be there with him.

“Before my father died, I made him a promise that I would go to Tokyo 2020 to get that medal for him,” Aït Saïd said through a translator. “Unfortunately, he won’t have this chance to come to Tokyo to come see me, but I’ve given him my word that I will go get that medal for him. It was his dream, too.”

Fourteen months after Rio, Aït Saïd finished fourth in the world championships still rings final, .008 out of a medal. Even though France failed to qualify a full team for Tokyo, Aït Saïd had multiple paths to clinching an individual Olympic spot.

However, worlds would be his best chance. He needed to make the eight-man still rings final. He did. The way things shook out Saturday, he needed to outscore the last two Olympic still rings champions. He did.

Aït Saïd competed in vault in qualifying here, but he plans to only do rings in Tokyo. That’s the medal he promised his father.

“I need to rest,” he said, “because what is awaiting for me is very, very hard. I’m going to work hard to go get that title at the Olympics.”

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