LONDON (Reuters) - Four years after letting the title slip through his fingers, Japan’s Kohei Uchimura finally won the Olympic gold medal he dreamed of to go with his three world crowns in the all-around gymnastics final on Wednesday.
Uchimura left the Beijing Olympics with silver after falling twice from the pommel horse and the apparatus proved his downfall again in the team event here on Monday when Japan had to settle for second place.
Everything went superbly to plan for the 23-year-old pre-Games favourite at the North Greenwich Arena on Wednesday, however, and he finished 1.659 points ahead of an excited Marcel Nguyen, who took Germany’s first silver medal in the event since the 1904 Games.
American Danell Leyva stormed back from a poor start with a roof-raising horizontal bar routine to snatch the bronze from Ukraine’s Mykola Kuksenkov in the final rotation.
Uchimura must have sighed when he realised his first of the six apparatus on Wednesday would be the dreaded pommel horse but he carried off a composed routine to start with a 15.066.
It was not until the third rotation that he took the lead, picking up 16.266 on the vault where marks are invariably higher than on other apparatus.
At that point, Japan looked to be on course for a one-two finish with Kazuhito Tanaka, who only got a place in the final after injured team mate Koji Yamamuro withdrew following his fall from the vault in the team final on Monday, lying second.
Tanaka, though, sat down on a landing on the floor in his fifth rotation, picking up a low mark of 14.166.
Japan’s pommel horse jinx seemed to have transferred to him when he lost momentum and came off the side off the wood in his final round, grimacing as he realised the silver had gone. His mark was 13.433 and he finished the competition in sixth place.
After his previous disappointments, Uchimura was struggling to absorb the reality of being Olympic champion at last.
“It’s like a dream still,” he told reporters, weighing his medal in his hand.
“I have been world champion three times, three years in a row but this is different. It’s once in four years, the weight is there and also I felt as if the demon was chasing me this time.”
German coach Andreas Hirsch summed up “Super-Mura”, as he is known, in one simple phrase, saying: “He’s in a different world.”
Leyva added: “If we knew what made him so special we would all be on his level but I like that he’s up there, that’s what I need to look for.”
Kuksenkov, who missed out on a team medal when Ukraine were demoted to fourth in a reshuffle after Japan won a protest over Uchimura’s pommel horse mark, was left disappointed again with another fourth place, 0.266 points behind Leyva.
A German man had not won an all-around medal of any colour since 1936 and Nguyen seemed like an unlikely candidate to end the 76-year barren run after finishing seventh in qualifying.
On Wednesday he trailed the leaders through the first three rotations but the parallel bars, on which he has won two European titles, gave him the chance to leap back into contention and he had the joint highest score of the day, 15.833, on the apparatus.
The 24-year-old German was the last man to go in the floor exercise, a discipline that holds bad memories for him as he broke his fibula in a competition routine in Switzerland nearly two years ago.
Fired up by the knowledge that a medal was his for the taking, he sailed through his routine, ending with a big smile on his face.
Like Uchimura, Nguyen could not quite believe he was still awake. “It’s amazing. A dream came true today and I’m just happy to have this medal around my neck,” he told reporters.
Leyva, who had been the top qualifier, said his medal would soothe U.S. wounds after they finished a disappointing fifth in the team event.
“This medal is a little redemption from team finals,” he told reporters. “This is for all the guys on the team who are my brothers. I love these guys.”
Reporting by Clare Fallon; Editing by Pritha Sarkar