Publication date : 10/08/2016
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Kohei Uchimura became the first gymnast in 44 years to win back-to-back Olympic All-around titles Wednesday, successfully defending his overall crown in the face of a direct challenge from Ukraine's Oleg Verniaiev. Great Britain's Max Whitlock took the bronze by 0.153 over Russia's David Belyavskiy.
Two finals, two golds for Uchimura
Two days after having clinched the Men's team title for Japan, Uchimura was back on the field of play, where he doubled his Olympic gold medal count in the All-around competition. But never has the six time World Champion had to fight so hard to keep his name at the top of the scoreboard.
Before the last rotation, Uchimura found himself in the unusual position of trailing Ukraine's rising star Verniaiev by nearly a whole point.
In a suspense-filled finish on the Horizontal Bar, Uchimura, the 2015 World champion on the apparatus, managed to make up the difference, pocketing his second Olympic gold in this event by a mere 0.099 points.
"King Kohei" now possesses seven Olympic medals, three of them gold. He will have another chance to add to his collection in Sunday's Floor final, the single apparatus event final for which he has qualified.
Eight years at the top
This new victory marks a record eighth consecutive year Uchimura has gone undefeated in major international All-around competition, with the Japanese master continuing to add new chapters to his legend. Not only has he maintained his supremacy over the competition, in Rio he became the first gymnast to win back-to-back Olympic All-around titles since his compatriot Sawao Kato in 1972.
Already considered the greatest male gymnast of all time, Uchimura, 27, owns seven Olympic and 19 World medals. "I have managed to defend this title here, but this time was really the trickiest for me," said Uchimura, who hopes to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Verniaiev, the man who made the king tremble
Oleg Verniaiev didn't manage to get gold at the end of the day, but he was "quite happy to have made Kohei very nervous!" The 2015 European and European Games champion took the lead with the best performance on Rings and padded it on Parallel Bars, an apparatus on which he demonstrated the excellence that won him a World title on the event in 2014. Even if he was not able to challenge Uchimura on the High Bar, the young Ukrainian proved he has the mental strengh of a champion.
"You might think that I sort of regret competing against this strong athlete, and many people would say 'Wait until Kohei leaves and you can get the medals easily.' But there are no weak athletes in this sport, and the fact that we compete with this legend, who has been on top since 2009, is the coolest thing in the world," said Verniaiev.
After this silver medal, Verniaiev has four other chances to try to reach gold: He will compete in event finals on Pommel Horse, Vault, Parallel Bars and Horizontal Bar.
A third bronze for Whitlock
Boosted by Britain's home Games in 2012, Whitlock won bronze medals in the Team competition and on Pommel Horse in London. Four years later, he wears a third Olympic bronze, after edging Russia's Belyavskiy by 0.153.
Whitlock, who in 2015 became the first British man to win a World title in Artistic Gymnastics (Pommel Horse), continues to write glorious pages in British gymnastics history. Wednesday night, he became the first Briton to stand on the Olympic All-Around podium since 1908.