Gymnastics: SuperMura banishes demon to win gold
LONDON (Reuters) - Kohei Uchimura got a demon off his back when he was crowned the best all-around gymnast at the Olympics on Wednesday, four years after seeing his golden hopes fade to silver because of two falls from the pommel horse.
To the observer, the apparatus is a 35-cm wide wooden horse with two handles on top on which the gymnasts perform a whole routine supporting themselves on their hands.
To the man known as "Super-Mura", it is more of a stumbling block than anything else. It came between him and the gold medal at the Beijing Games, then put paid to Japan's chances of team gold when Uchimura fell off it yet again.
On Wednesday, Uchimura tamed the horse, and indeed all five other apparatus, to end Japan's 28-year wait for an Olympic all-around title and stake a claim to being the greatest gymnast ever after also winning an unprecedented three successive world championship crowns.
"He's in a different world," German coach Andreas Hirsch said about the man who won the title with a total of 92.690.
Not that Germany were complaining, after Marcel Nguyen surpassed expectations by taking silver - the country's first men's all-around medal since the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In a day of comebacks, American Danell Leyva produced the standout horizontal bar routine of the evening, on his final rotation, to snatch the bronze and raise the roof at the North Greenwich Arena.
Uchimura had come to London as the clear favorite for the all-around after triumphing at home in Tokyo last October but a cloud descended on him during qualifying, when he surprisingly finished ninth, and in the team event.
His pommel horse dismount - the last move of the last event in the team final - was more of a fall than a gymnastics move and the judges marked him so harshly that Japan slipped out of the medals.
Japan protested, the mark was upgraded and the Japanese took silver behind China in a repeat of the Beijing result. Olympic gold, it seemed, would never be Uchimura's - until Wednesday's superb showing.
"I feel as if the demon was chasing me this time," the 23-year-old Uchimura told reporters as he cradled his precious 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," he added. "It's like a dream still."
Leyva's bronze made up for his disappointment in the team competition, where the U.S., who had dreamed of glory after coming top in qualifying, finished fifth.
It also fired him up for another shot, in four years' time in Rio de Janeiro, at Super-Mura.
"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," the Cuban-born Leyva told reporters.
"I asked him: 'Hey man, you coming back for 2016?' and he said: 'Yeah, I think so'. I told him: "Man, you better come back."
With China unexpectedly failing to get a man into the final, Japan, at one stage, had hopes of having two men on Wednesday's podium.
Kazuhito Tanaka, who found himself in Wednesday's competition after higher-placed compatriot Koji Yamamuro was injured in a vault crash-landing during the team event, went into the final rotation in second place.
The pommel horse jinx, though, struck again, only this time Tanaka was the victim, losing momentum and sliding off the side with a grimace that betrayed his frustration.
Mykola Kuksenkov, whose Ukrainian team were bumped down to fourth after the Japanese protest, suffered the pain of fourth place again, finishing just 0.266 of a point behind Leyva.
British fans filed away happy after seeing Kristian Thomas, who contributed to the country's first team medal in 100 years, take seventh - the best men's result ever for the home nation.
The sport had one piece of bad news to digest, however, when, 12 years after Andreea Raducan was stripped of the women's all-around title after failing a drugs test at the Sydney Olympics, Uzbek Luiza Galiulina was expelled from the London Games for testing positive for the diuretic furosemide.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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