GLASGOW (Reuters) - It was more a case of winning ugly than showcasing perfection as Kohei Uchimura finally propelled Japan to a team gold medal at the gymnastics world championships on Wednesday, breaking China’s stranglehold.
In a competition riddled with errors but overflowing with 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.
Five-times world all-around champion Uchimura’s final score of 14.466 allowed Japan to edge hosts and surprise silver medallists Britain by just 0.473 of a point.
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 — surpassing their female counterparts who secured bronze 24 hours earlier.
China, who had won 10 of the last 11 world team titles and had been unbeaten since 2001, appeared to be out of the running when three scrappy performances on the pommel horse left them languishing in seventh place after the second rotation.
But three mesmerising outings on the parallel bars, topped by Deng Shudi, who earned a jaw-dropping 16.066, allowed China to stage a remarkable comeback, earning bronze with a combined total of 269.959.
Russia, the United States, Switzerland, South Korea and Brazil completed the final eight.
Beating China in a major global team competition had been Uchimura’s motivating force as it was the one title missing from his glittering collection.
The collective strength of China meant that since 1994, they had won 10 of 11 world men’s titles and three of the five Olympic golds on offer.
Japan did win the Olympic title in Athens in 2004 but that was in the pre-Uchimura era.
The Asian superpowers had engaged in a mighty tug of war since 2007, with China overpowering Japan every time — that was until Wednesday.
A year after Japan suffered the heartbreak of losing the world title by just one-tenth of a point, the lead they had built through the first four rotations looked in jeopardy when Yusuke Tanaka slipped off the parallel bars and then off the horizontal bar.
But Japan knew they still had their trump card to play — with Uchimura needing 13.933 points from his final routine of the day.
The man who had posted an impressive 15.366 in qualifying only three days previously and owned a record five world all-around titles, should have been guaranteed to produce a clean programme.
But when he failed to grip the bar following a high-flying release manoeuvre and crashed to the mat, a hushed silence descended on the Hydro Arena and the scoreboard showed Britain sitting in the gold medal position.
But a fall in a such a daring routine would not deny Uchimura and when his score flashed up — it was finally mission accomplished.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Clare Lovell