By Pritha Sarkar
GLASGOW (Reuters) – When Kohei Uchimura capped a high-flying horizontal bar routine with a perfect landing on Friday, he instantly held up six fingers to the crowd confident that he had just won a record sixth all-around title at the gymnastics world championships.
The Japanese hero did not even bother to hang around for the judges’ verdict to begin his celebrations, urging the crowd with both hands to cheer louder.
When his score of 15.100 flashed up, it confirmed the victory and showed his margin of success over surprise Cuban silver medallist Manrique Larduet was 1.634 points after the Japanese amassed a combined 92.332 points across six apparatus.
“Winning today was totally different from my other victories because this is the first time I have won an all-around gold after winning the team title, so that I why I was so happy after the competition today,” Uchimura said after being given a standing ovation by the Hydro Arena crowd.
While Uchimura picked up a ninth gold at the worlds, taking his overall medals tally to 18, Larduet reduced his coach to tears after becoming the first Cuban to win an all-around medal at the global meet.
The 19-year-old had qualified only in seventh place for the final but after Britain’s Max Whitlock dropped out of contention to win a second successive silver medal following a crash landing off the horizontal bar, the Cuban kept his wits in the final rotation to finish second.
China’s Deng Shudi fought back from eighth place at the half-way point of the competition to claim bronze — his country’s first medal in the individual event since Yang Wei won the second of his golds in 2007.
“This medal proves the important role I have in the Chinese team,” Deng, who sports a massive scar on his right cheek, said.
But it is Uchimura who is leaving an indelible mark on the sport.
FINALLY HIT TARGET
The 26-year-old, who was left fuming after falling during his floor exercise in qualifying and then again from the horizontal bar in the men’s team final, finally hit his target of six clean routines in Glasgow.
Five of his programmes broke the 15-point mark, with the judges deeming his performance on the rings was not quite as good as the rest of his impressive bodywork.
But that was the only blemish for Uchimura who captured his second gold medal of the championships after helping Japan to their first team title in 37 years two days ago.
“I wanted to win the all-around title without any mistakes so I left out a few difficult elements today,” he said. “I wanted to produce a perfected performance.”
Uchimura has now bagged every Olympic and world all-around title since taking silver at the 2008 Beijing Games, a streak unmatched in gymnastics history. No other man or woman has won more than three world all-around titles.
When Uchimura won his fifth straight all-around gold at the 2014 worlds by 1.492 points, it raised hopes among the chasing pack that they might finally be closing the gap on the Japanese great as it was his smallest margin of victory at the worlds.
But on Friday, he again showed they were no closer to beating him any time soon and he will be favourite to become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic titles in Rio next year since his compatriot Sawao Kato achieved the feat in 1972.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Ken Ferris/Mark Lamport-Stokes)