ANTWERP — Olympic all-around gold medalist Kohei Uchimura is still the king, and he proved it by winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive world all-around title Thursday night, dominating the men’s competition in a way that many of the sport’s greats are expected to, but rarely do.
That Uchimura rises to expectations at every meet he enters is only one of the things that makes him special. His gymnastics is exceptionally clean, and his technical mastery of some of the hardest athletic feats human beings can do had one reporter labelling his powers “extraterrestrial” as he was questioned by media after his win.
The reserved Uchimura, who mostly answered questions softly and shyly with his eyes cast down, seemed to like the comparison. “I am glad to hear that,” he said through a translator, and even let out a small laugh. He said little else, except that he hopes to compete through the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo.
His young daughter, born in April, will be seven at that time, and Uchimura said earlier this week that he hoped to still be competing when she is old enough to watch him and remember it.
Good form aside, the 24-year-old rarely makes a visible mistake, Thursday’s competition was no exception. Aside from some small hops on his tumbling passes on floor exercise and a few dismounts, Uchimura gave nothing away. He won the competition by nearly two points over his closest rival, teammate Ryohei Kato, a 20-year-old who cut his teeth with the silver medal-winning Japanese team at the 2012 Olympics and has made a name for himself here as a kind of mini-Kohei, with the same clean elegance and quiet demeanor.
Though Kato was unshakable throughout the meet, nobody in the competition had a real shot at beating Uchimura unless the Olympic champ made multiple mistakes. That not happening, it quickly turned into a battle for the bronze.
Veteran Fabian Hambuechen, the Olympic silver medalist on high bar, was delighted to win that contest, calling it “a dream come true.” Hambuechen, sixth overall in the qualifying round, was lucky to get his worst event, pommel horse, out of the way early in the evening. In the all-around prelim, he finished on horse and, tired from the five events before, fell.
Uchimura doesn’t have that problem. When asked what made Uchimura so great afterward, Hambuechen said simply, “He has no weak event.”
Britain’s Max Whitlock, 20, second at the European Championships earlier this year, finished fourth but improved mightily from the qualifying round where he made numerous mistakes. Brazil’s Sergio Sasaki, at the head of a talented team with high hopes for the 2016 Olympics, was fifth, his best-ever all-around finish at a major international meet.
High bar was the event that made the difference in this competition. American Sam Mikulak seesawed between second and third place for most of the evening before coming unglued on a pirouetting skill on high bar, his last event. Though he didn’t fall, Mikulak committed a form error and took a deduction heavy enough to knock him down to sixth.
The easygoing junior at the University of Michigan remained unruffled, and later said he felt he had gained valuable experience. “A lot of people might think I’d be very, very disappointed, but I’m actually very happy,” Mikulak said. “Next year I’ll be back, and hopefully it will turn out a little better.”
Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev, one of the pre-meet favorites to medal, also came apart on high bar and was unable to recover in the standings. The same event ended Russian David Belyavskiy’s medal hopes as well, when he fell on a release move.
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