GLASGOW (Reuters) - It was more a case of winning ugly than showcasing perfection but Kohei Uchimura finally helped Japan break China’s stranglehold to capture the team gold medal at the gymnastics world championships on Wednesday.
In a competition riddled with errors but full of heart-pumping drama, Japan survived three falls — including one by Uchimura in the final performance of the day on the horizontal bar — to land their first world team title in 37 years.
Olympic all-around champion Uchimura’s final score of 14.466 allowed Japan to edge hosts and surprise silver medallists Britain by 0.473.
While Japan scooped gold with a combined total of 270.818, Louis Smith, Brinn Bevan, Max Whitlock, Daniel Purvis, Nile Wilson and Kristian Thomas earned Britain their first ever men’s team medal at the worlds.
Britain’s women had secured bronze 24 hours earlier.
China, who were unbeaten at the worlds since 2001, appeared to be out of the running when three scrappy performances on the pommel horse left them more than six points adrift of the leaders and in seventh after the second rotation.
But three sensational outings on the parallel bars, topped by Deng Shudi’s score of 16.066, allowed China to stage a remarkable comeback and they snatched bronze with a combined total of 269.959.
Russia, the United States, Switzerland, South Korea and Brazil completed the final eight.
“China and Japan have dominated for so many years. It’s a given you expect them to be first and second,” Thomas, a member of Britain’s bronze-winning 2012 Olympic team, told reporters as he stroked the silver disc hanging from his neck.
“We have laid down a marker that says they are definitely beatable.”
China won 10 of 11 world men’s titles and three of the five Olympic golds on offer since 1994, and while Japan took the Olympic title in Athens in 2004 that was before the rise of Uchimura, who owns a record five world all-around titles.
Japan, who lost last year’s world title by one-tenth of a point, built a lead through the first four rotations but that advantage looked in jeopardy when Yusuke Tanaka slipped off the parallel bars and then off the horizontal bar.
Japan still had their trump card to play, however.
Uchimura needed to beat a modest 13.933 points from his final routine of the day, and after posting an impressive 15.366 in qualifying only three days earlier there were few at the Hydro Arena who doubted him on the horizontal bar.
But when the crowd erupted as Whitlock’s floor exercise provisionally elevated Britain to the gold medal position, Uchimura lost focus and crashed to the mat when he failed to catch the bar following a release.
A hushed silence added to the mounting drama, but the fall did not undermine Uchimura’s daring routine and when his score flashed up and confirmed it was mission accomplished, the tears began to flow for the gymnast dubbed ‘Supermura’.
Editing by Clare Lovell/Peter Rutherford