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Friday 30 October 2015

Glasgow’s SSE Hydro Arena again witnessed history in the making, as Kohei Uchimura claimed a sixth consecutive individual All-Around title at the 2015 World Gymnastics Championships.

As relentless in his search for yet another world title as he has been in pursuit of perfection, Japan’s ‘Superman’ saved his finest performance in Scotland for tonight’s critical finale, amassing a huge total of 92.332 across all six pieces of apparatus.

The shades of human imperfection which had pervaded earlier displays during qualifying and the Team Final - he nevertheless broke the 90-point barrier on both occasions - were nowhere in sight. Uchimura provided a rapturous audience with a demonstration of sheer brilliance, untainted by hesitation or error. The greatest gymnast of this generation was, in a word, sublime.

“I just believed that doing my task would be winning the gold,” he said. “I did not make any mistakes. I just tried to perform my best performance, with perfection.”

Uchimura was tracked, although never closely enough to truly threaten, by the previously unheralded Manrique Larduet (90.698), the first Cuban to medal in a World All-Around final. Still only 19, he was one of only two men to qualify for three individual apparatus finals in 2015 (along with American Danell Leyva) and was a picture of consistency.

A young pretender to Uchimura’s throne, perhaps, but signs are that, come next year’s Olympic Games, the elder statesman may have more to worry about than the margins of his victories. A showdown of mammoth proportions undoubtedly awaits in Rio.

“We want Cuban gymnastics to be good again,” said Larduet, following what may in future be considered his breakthrough performance on the world stage. “We hadn’t been to a World Championships since 2003, so being back and winning a silver medal is great.

“It has been a dream of mine ever since I was little. I also want to be the first Cuban gymnast with an Olympic medal, and I’m going to start working on that right now.”

Shudi Deng, meanwhile, used the evening to remind the world of gymnastics that China’s star is not on the wane, despite trading their 2014 All-Around Team title for bronze this time around. Courtesy of an individual score of 90.099, his second bronze of the Championships will have done just that.

For the others who’d heard their names mentioned in the same breath as Uchimura’s as contenders for the Glasgow crown, the chips simply didn’t fall in their favour.

Oleg Verniaiev, Dan Purvis and Max Whitlock, to a man, either failed to maintain or failed to reach the peaks that would enabled them to hunt down the heavy favourite. And although Purvis saw an improvement on the performance which helped him qualify in third, such was the quality of this showcase finale that seventh place was as good as his commendable 89.064 could deliver.

Verniaiev and Whitlock have a slightly different story to tell. The Ukrainian, in truth, did well to battle back for fourth place after coming off the Pommel Horse on only his second routine of the evening, resulting in a disappointingly low tally of 13.566.

Whitlock was awarded no such opportunity to recover following his only notable error on his penultimate apparatus, Horizontal Bar. Attempting a catch and release, last year’s World All-Around silver medallist failed to re-grasp the bar and dramatically tumbled to the floor. A figure of desolation, the 22-year-old bravely completed his routine in the knowledge his hopes were shot. A score of 12.833 confirmed what the 6,000-strong audience had most feared.

Such was the brilliance of Whitlock’s showing until that point, including the evening’s highest score of 16.1 which came on Pommel, he would do no worse than a valiant fifth place. This, according to the man himself, could provide the impetus for better things in the Pommel and Floor Finals tomorrow afternoon.

He said: “I feel ok, I’m gutted with the high bar but I think we both enjoyed it and can look forward positively. I was very close to my goal but I can say I did a good job in the other five apparatus, especially on Pommel Horse.

“I’m definitely happy with Pommel and Floor, so feel good going in to the finals tomorrow.”

Happy with his seventh place finish, Purvis commented: “I wanted to come out and hold my head high and I’m happy to get the top eight. It was a bit of a rollercoaster but I’m happy to have gone through clean and now need a big rest before finals tomorrow.

“I’m really happy that all my training paid off, coming in the top eight. It’s great. It was such a tough competition and I think it’s really helpful thinking towards Rio. I came 11th in the All-Around Final in China [2014 World Championships] so anything higher than that is great. It was amazing to compete in front of my home crowd.”

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