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Wednesday 28 October 2015
In the most thrilling finale imaginable, Great Britain came within half a point of an incredible gold medal at the 2015 World Gymnastics Championships, losing out by an improbably narrow margin to new Team champions Japan.
Japan overcame the bitter disappointment of 12 months previously, to take the title at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro Arena, led by their legendary talisman, Kohei Uchimura.
It should have been far more comfortable for the Japanese, however, as a series of errors on their final apparatus, Horizontal Bar, almost allowed Great Britain to steal gold from their clutches.
Seemingly setting the tone for a dominant display in their first apparatus, Floor, Shirai Kenzo, the 2013 World gold medallist, unleashed a stunning opening salvo, producing the highest individual tally of the evening - 16.325.
Anchored by the ever-dependable Uchimura, this early lead would have posed a considerable challenge to Japan’s fiercest rivals, China, even at their very best. The current World Champions were, however, far from that.
Hampered by numerous errors on Floor and a fall on Pommel Horse, the Chinese challenge was, in truth, over before it had begun, the path cleared for a Japanese procession towards the gold medal. A stunning effort on Parallel Bars did much to spare Chinese blushes; a quite remarkable three-man tally of 47.765 was very nearly 1.5 points better than any other nation could muster on the evening.
Kazuma Kaya, who will contest the men’s All-Around alongside Uchimura on Friday, said: “It was my first World Championships, and I competed only on Pommel Horse. I think I did a good job. This was the best routine I have done. Next year will be the Olympics, and I think we can take the gold medal at the Olympics. In qualification I did all six events, but in the final I did only Pommel Horse. So next year for the Olympics, I want to do all six apparatus.”
In front of a partisan home crowd, the more compelling action centred on British efforts to emulate the bronze medal performance delivered by their female counterparts 24 hours earlier.
Opening on Pommel Horse, happy hunting ground in the past, Great Britain started strongly, led out by apparatus specialist Louis Smith MBE, a hero from the bronze medal-winning team at London 2012. Similarly impressive displays on both Vault and Parallel bars set up the most dramatic finale, with GB, Russia, United States and China still in the running for silver.
With only the Floor between them and a medal, Great Britain delivered. Steadily led out by captain Kristian Thomas, who replicated his qualifying score of 14.6, Daniel Purvis followed scoring 15.4. The stage was set for World All-Around Silver medallist Max Whitlock, who’s 15.766 moved Britain into second. And there they stayed.
For a time, few dared dream the unthinkable. Only Uchimura’s Horizontal Bar remained, with a score of 13.96 required to confirm what long seemed certain. On any other evening, only the foolish would have doubted him.
But this was, as records will show, an evening unlike any other and a dramatic fall mid-way through his routine drew shocked gasps from an audience, who’d learned, by now, anything was possible.
But the five-time individual All-Around World Champion was not about to allow defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory. Composed under the most enormous pressure, the Japanese master completed his performance without further fault. Even with this almost catastrophic slip, Uchimura recorded an individual All-Around score of 91.531, a point higher than his qualifying total.
So for Great Britain it was Team silver, but having never before medalled at a World Championships, second ranks as an incredible achievement in British gymnastics history.
“The Olympic bronze medal [at London 2012) has spurred us all on and made us all believe that we are one of the best countries in the world at gymnastics,” said Wilson, GB’s top scorer on Rings and High Bar. “To be a part of this team was incredible. We were all relentless out there and hit every routine and you can’t ask for more than that.”
Purvis, the only Scot to make the British team for the 2015 World Gymnastics Championship, spoke of the personal pride he felt at collecting a silver medal in Glasgow.
He said: “It was amazing. Coming out into this arena from the qualification, I think there was pressure on to try and get a medal and we just kept our heads together hit our routines and, in the end, it was a great result and I loved every minute of it with this team. So proud to be here.”
Having thrived under the pressure to produce the highest British individual score with the team’s final routine of the evening, Whitlock, who also surpassed 90 points for his all-around total, added: “To be honest there was pressure but the amount of support that goes with that was unbelievable. The crowd were absolutely crazy today and I think that has helped us get these silver medals that are round our necks now.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable and I think the team pulled together brilliantly and we got exactly what we wanted.”