Japan’s Kohei Uchimura produced a thrilling horizontal bar routine to extend his remarkable unbeaten streak in the individual all-around and become the first gymnast in 44 years to retain the Olympic title.
The Japanese gymnast’s final total of 92.365 points gave him the gold by a slender 0.099 margin from Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev, as he became the first man to successfully defend the title since countryman Sawao Kato in 1972. Great Britain’s Max Whitlock took third place on the podium.
Uchimura has not been beaten in the individual all-around since his silver at 2008 Beijing, run that now includes six world titles and two Olympic golds. That record looked under serious threat for much of the competition, with the Japanese gymnast falling behind the Ukrainian on rings and trailing by 0.467 at the halfway point.
However, Uchimura then nailed his vault despite a small hop back on landing, scoring a competition-best 15.566. A massive 16.1 by Verniaiev on parallel bars asked yet more questions of the defending champion, who replied with a 15.600 following another small hop on his landing.
Going into the final horizontal bar rotation, which had seen Uchimura take a tumble in the qualifiers, a mere 0.901 separated the pair. Immune to the pressure, however, he then produced a daredevil routine that drew gasps from the rapt crowd, and stuck a perfect landing to score 15.8, while Verniaiev could only score 14.800 after failing to nail his landing.
“Going onto the horizontal bar I knew what I had to do,” said the six-time world all-around champion. “I remained calm and controlled. This calmness I think was the key to my success. This is a great victory for me.”
Voicing his admiration for his Japanese rival, Verniaiev said: “I’m happy that I made Kohei very nervous, but in the end he retained his title again. I really don’t think he doubted himself. I got as close as possible to his score as nobody has done before. I did everything I could.”
Whitlock, a two-time world all-around medallist, gave Great Britain a first Olympic men’s all-around medal since Walter Tysal’s silver in 1908. “Uchimura has inspired me,” said the Briton. “It’s always impressive the confidence he shows. It’s unbelievable to stay at that level for so many years.”
All three medallists will be back in action in the apparatus finals. While Verniaiev will be going for gold again in the pommel horse, vault, horizontal and parallel bars, Whitlock will do likewise in the pommel horse and floor, an event in which he will come up against the great Uchimura once more.