By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) - The scoreboard showed Louis Smith had the winning score, 13,000 hollering fans leapt to their feet in frenzied celebration and then the Briton's ranking flashed up - the gold was cruelly snatched away thanks to the rather befuddling tiebreak rule.
It was a case of so near but yet so far as Smith's hopes of ending Britain's 116-year wait for an Olympic gymnastics champion were dashed on Sunday just as he started to raise his arms in triumph in front of a cheering crowd.
The judges awarded Smith 16.066 points for his pommel horse routine, level with twice world champion Krisztian Berki of Hungary, but seconds later reality struck and the smile disappeared from his goateed face as the giant scoreboard added a '2' next to his name.
Following the initial let down, Smith stood shoulder-to-shoulder and draped in the Union flag with team mate and surprise bronze medallist Max Whitlock after the duo made it the most successful day for British gymnastics at an Olympics.
"I can't sit here with my face screwed up just because I got a silver at the Olympic Games. Great Britain are making history. It is a fantastic day for the sport," Smith told reporters.
It was the second time on Sunday the tiebreak rule - which takes into account the execution score if the combined total is level - had come into play to decide a medal at the North Greenwich Arena.
Zou Kai was in a league of his own as he showed off his gravity-defying tumbles to win his floor exercise showdown with all-around champion Kohei Uchimura with a score of 15.933.
That not only gave the Chinese gymnast a second successive title on the apparatus but also took his individual Olympic haul to five golds.
He celebrated the feat by unfurling a banner from Chinese great Li Ning which read "five times champion in a row" in Mandarin.
"This gold medal means a lot to me as it is the fifth gold and it is a record (for a Chinese gymnast). The previous was four," Zou told reporters after repeatedly kissing his golden prize while on the victory podium.
Worryingly for his rivals, Zou already has plans to unveil another banner on Tuesday, when he aims to defend his horizontal bar title.
"I definitely want to add more honours to my gymnastics career, so I can brag to my sons 'I'm the champion'."
Uchimura had already claimed bagging rights when he lived up to his Super-mura moniker by winning the all-around crown earlier in the week.
On Sunday, though, he had to rely on the tiebreak rule, and his superior execution score of 9.100, to pick up a silver on the floor after he and Russia's Denis Ablyazin were both awarded 15.800.
Uchimura did not seem too bothered to be walking away from these Games with one gold and two silvers as he was now free to indulge in his favourite diet of burgers, chips and chocolate.
There was no sweet ending for American vault specialist McKayla Maroney, who had been a shoo-in for the top prize on the apparatus after not putting a foot wrong all week.
On Sunday, Maroney not only put a foot wrong when she stepped out of bounds following her 2-1/2 twisting Amanar vault, but then crash landed on her bottom with her second effort.
Shock gave away to anger when she realised her errors had cost her the gold. Romania's Sandra Izbasa looked stunned as she leapfrogged Maroney to the top of the standings with two relatively clean, if not spectacular, leaps.
Izbasa earned an average of 15.191 while Maroney was awarded 15.083. Russia's Maria Paseka picked up the bronze.
"I believe the vault final is a war of the nerves and as it turned out, my nerves were the strongest," said the 22-year-old Izbasa, who looked more dazed than pleased by her unexpected prize.
Oksana Chusovitina, 37, stumbled in her attempt to become the oldest woman to scoop an Olympic gymnastics medal as the Uzbek-born German finished fifth.
With high expectations that Smith would continue Britain's gold-rush at these Games, the first two apparatus finals were just the warm-up acts for the event the fans really wanted to see.
Smith was given a standing ovation as he filed into the arena wearing oversized black gloves that would not have looked out of place had he been a Hells Angels rider.
His presence certainly created a deafening roar around the arena but Smith chose to block it all out and instead "chilled out" by listening to some reggae music through his headphones and reading a good luck card filled with inspirational messages.
He kept his head down as Berki mounted the horse and pulled off a flamboyant routine packed with fast-paced swivels and flares which showed off his straight lines to perfection.
Moving into a handstand, Berki pirouetted down the wood and the moment he completed his handstand, he had his coach leaping for joy while the British camp realised Smith would have to produce his lifetime best if he had any chance to topple the Hungarian.
Smith knew he had a gold-medal winning trick up his sleeve, the high scoring but high-risk triple Russian manoeuvre. If he gambled and pulled it off, he would win gold. But one wobble and he would be off the podium.
With so much at stake, he doubled the Russian as he swivelled up and down the wood before a roar greeted his dismount.
It was an error-free performance, one worthy of gold but undone by an execution score of 9.066 to Berki's 9.166.
(Additional reporting by Clare Fallon, and Annika Breidthardt, Editing by Greg Stutchbury)