After team Olympic champions were crowned, it was time for the individual competition to start with the men’s all-around final. As usual Kohei Uchimura of Japan was the front-runner for the title but for the first time in ages he faced some serious competition in the form of Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine, making for one of the best all-around finals in recent years.
Coming in as reigning Olympic Champion and 6-times World All-Around Champion, Uchimura was the clear favorite to win the title once again. However, a fall on high bar in qualifications meant he ‘only’ qualified second to the All-Around final. In first place was one of the gymternet’s favorites, Verniaiev, proving once again that he too was a contender for the highest spot on the podium. The problem with Verniaiev, however, is his inconsistency. It is not uncommon for him to excel in qualifications only to falter during finals and finish off the medals (he was fourth in both 2014 and 2015) so most didn’t consider him a serious threat to Uchimura’s reign. But this time things were different. Verniaiev finally put everything together to have the meet of his life when it mattered the most and forced Uchimura not only to watch his back but to actually have to chase Verniaiev for most of the competition. In end Uchimura still came out on top with 92.365, beating Verniaiev by less than a tenth (92.266), while the bronze medal went to Britain’s Max Whitlock after a score of 90.641.
Starting on floor exercise, Uchimura had a solid routine albeit with some uncharacteristic hops on his landings, scoring in the mid-15s, while on pommels and rings he didn’t manage to score above the high-14s due to his slightly lower difficulty (6.2 D-score on both), allowing both Verniaiev and Whitlock to surpass him halfway through the competition. Moving on to vault, Uchimura nearly stuck his Li Xiaopeng despite quite a low landing for a score in the mid-15s, which is matched on parallel bars after a sizeable hop on his low double pike dismount, keeping him in second place going into the last rotation, almost a full point behind Verniaiev. This last rotation, however, was high bar where Uchimura is the current World Champion, whereas Verniaiev usually struggles and so Uchimura managed to hit his routine to the best of his ability sticking his double twisting double layout to score in the high-15s and take the title by the smallest margin since the introduction of the open scoring system. As such, Kohei Uchimura was able to prove once again he is the best male gymnast possibly ever, while also joining the very restricted club of two-time Olympic All-Around Champions alongside fellow Japanese Sawao Kato (1968 and 1972) and Soviet Viktor Chukarin (1952 and 1956). With the next Olympic Games taking place on home soil, Kohei has already expressed his plans to continue with the sport throughout the next quad in hopes of helping Japan repeat their team title in their own country and finish his career in the best way possible.
In second place, after leading for most of the competition, was Oleg Verniaiev, just under a tenth behind Champion Uchimura. Starting on floor exercise, Verniaiev had considerable hops on most of his landings, lacking some control and scoring just above 15, while on pommel horse he had a slight hesitation on his flares but had a mostly hit routine for a score in the mid-15s. Moving on to rings, he had a clean and solid performance, capped off with a stuck double double dismount for a 15.300 that prompted him ahead of Uchimura by nearly half a point, a margin that only got wider in the next two events: vault and parallel bars, both events where Verniaiev excels. On vault, he presented a Dragulescu with his usual knee separation in the air but a stuck landing with chest up that got him a score in the mid-15s, while on parallel bars he had one of his best routines ever with just some tiny steps on his double front half-out dismount for the highest score of the night with a 16.100. This put the young Ukrainian from Donetsk in first place by nine tenths going into the last rotation, with great chances of taking the Olympic title. Verniaiev went on to have a very correct and precise performance on high bar but a large hop on his double twisting double layout dismount ended up making the difference between silver and gold. After such coming so close, Oleg was visibly disappointed with the final result but at the same time quite happy for finally winning an All-Around medal after narrowly missing out in the last two years. As a personal favorite of mine since 2012, I couldn’t be more proud of Oleg. He has struggled through inconsistency, lack of proper training facilities and political turmoil in his home country but he remained strong and loyal to his people, refusing offers from more stable countries like Russia or Azerbaijan and continuing to proudly represent Ukraine in multiple international competitions. He kept working and working to improve his difficulty but also his form and consistency, proving everyone that Uchimura wasn’t out of reach and that he could indeed be beaten even at his highest. Oleg didn’t win this competition but I believe he will be remembered by many gymnastics fans for years to come as the first gymnast who dared to go head to head with the Japanese ‘king’ and face him as his equal, making this all-around final one of the most exciting of the last few years.
Bronze medalist Whitlock started the competition on his best piece, pommel horse, hitting his routine with no major issues and scoring in the high-15s to lead after the first rotation. Moving next to rings, he performed to his usual standards with some form issues but no big mistakes except for a low landing and a step back on his double double dismount for a score in the mid-14s, while on vault he finally managed to present a fully rotated TTY after some under-rotated attempts during qualifications and team finals with just a step out-of-bounds, for a score in the low-15s. On parallel bars, Whitlock had another solid routine with only a small step on his double pike dismount for a 15.000, followed by a mid-14s on high bar after some flexed feet, late pirouettes and a tiny hop on his double twisting double layout dismount. Finishing up on floor, Whitlock stuck his opening pass only to step out-of-bounds while preparing for his second tumbling run where he also had a super low landing. He had better landings on the rest of his passes, until his rough Thomas salto where he had a scary landing and seemed a bit dazzled before going into his triple twisting dismount. Fortunately he was okay and scored a 15.200, which was just enough to hold on to the bronze medal position, winning the first Olympic all-around medal for British gymnastics since 1908. Max has been a key player for the British team since 2012, with several team and individual medals in his résumé, and being able to finish on the podium at the biggest stage of the sport is certainly a dream come true. As the most successful British gymnast at the age of 23, Max is very much expected to continue to leave his mark in the sport of gymnastics and I hope to see him accomplish great things in the near future, for him and for his team.
In fourth place, less than two tenths behind Max Whitlock, was David Belyavskiy of Russia. After his silver medal in the team competition, Belyavskiy showed up with a renewed confidence to have one of the best meets of his career. Starting on floor, he performed a solid routine with controlled landings for a 15.000, while on pommel horse he had a small leg form break but managed to stay on for a score in the mid-14s. Next on rings he presented good strength positions but unfortunately had a very low landing on his double twisting double layout dismount, forcing him to take a large step to the side and posting his lowest score of the night with 14.533. He was able to make up some ground on his best event, parallel bars, with a near perfect routine capped off with a stuck double front half-out dismount for a score just below 16, followed by a low-15 on high bar after a hit routine with high releases and beautiful form and a stuck full twisting double layout dismount to finish. This, however, wasn’t enough to surpass Whitlock for the bronze medal position and Belyavskiy had to settle for fourth in his first Olympic experience. Part of the same generation of gymnasts as Verniaiev and Whitlock, he is surely expected to be a big name in the next quad and to help the Russian team for many years to come.
In fifth place was Lin Chaopan of China after improving his qualification total in nearly two points. Starting on pommel horse, Lin performed a solid routine for a score of 14.833, followed by rings where he scored just a tenth lower. Next on vault he presented a somewhat messy triple twisting Tsukahara with bent knees in the air and a step out-of-bounds on the landing for a score just below 15, while on parallel bars he managed his highest score of the night with a 15.666 after a great routine and a stuck double pike dismount. On high bar, he completely nailed his routine which included a rare layout jaeger and a stuck double twisting double layout dismount scoring in the low-15s thanks to his high difficulty (7.0 D-score, the highest among the Chinese men) before finishing his competition on floor with a high-14 after some landing issues. Overall this was a very successful result for this young gymnast (he’s turning 21 on August 27th) on his first Olympic experience and hopefully he will continue to improve in the near future.
In sixth place was Lin’s teammate and 2015 World Bronze medalist Deng Shudi after qualifying in fourth place. Starting on floor, Deng struggled with several deep landings scoring just below 15, followed by a mid-14 on pommels after being forced to muscle a press handstand on one handle. On rings he missed some strength elements and had a super low landing on his double twisting double layout dismount, taking several large steps forward to avoid falling on his face and scoring in the mid-14s. Moving on to vault he performed a clean triple twisting Tsukahara with just a step back for a low-15, while on parallel bars he had a solid routine capped off with a stuck double pike dismount for a score just below 16 (15.966). Going into the last rotation he was just three tenths shy from bronze medal position but his low difficulty on high bar unfortunately held him back even if he had a mostly clean performance and a stuck double twisting double layout dismount. As such, Deng Shudi finished just five tenths outside the podium and hopefully he will continue to be a big contender throughout the next quad.
In seventh place was four-time national AA Champion Sam Mikulak of the United States, finishing in the same position as in qualifications. Starting on pommels, Mikulak had a much better performance than in prelims for a score in the mid-14s, followed by a low-14 on rings mostly due to his low difficulty. On vault he presented a quite low triple twisting Tsukahara nearly touching his knees on the mat and having to take a large step forward which resulted in a score in the mid-14s, keeping him away from the top pack halfway through the competition. However, Mikulak came back on his last three events scoring the 15s on all of them which put him back in the top group. On parallel bars he had a super routine, sticking his double front half-out dismount and scoring in the high-15s, while on high bar he was equally great once again sticking his dismount for a score in the low-15s. Finishing on floor he posted a low-15 for a total of 89.631, his best result in international competition. Similar to Verniaiev, Sam Mikulak is a very talented gymnast with great scoring potential but he truly struggles to hit when it counts which as always kept him out of the medals. This time around Sam managed to avoid any falls but he still had some major mistakes which kept him away from the podium so here’s hoping he will become more consistent in the next few years and reach his full potential in the world or Olympic stage.
Rounding up the top 8 was Britain’s Nile Wilson, finally being allowed to compete in an all-around final after being pulled out last year in favor of Max Whitlock who had been two-per-countried out. Starting on floor with the top group (he qualified fifth), he had a solid routine with just tiny hops on his landings for a score in the high-14s, while on pommels he had some form issues and just barely got a score above 14. Moving next to rings he missed some strength positions and had a small hop on his full twisting double layout dismount but still managed a high-14, followed by vault where he had 15.000 for his 2.5 twisting Tsukahara with a small hop forward. On parallel bars he finally hit his routine after some issues in qualifications and team finals scoring in the mid-15s, while on high bar he scored just below 15 after some execution problems. In the end, Nile Wilson finished with a total of 89.565 and a very honorable eighth place at the Olympics, proving once again that British gymnastics is here to stay and continue to be a big contender both as a team and as individual athletes. At the young age of 20, Nile is already a key player for Team GB and should only get better in the next quad.
On the down side, two gymnasts were unable to finish the competition due to injury, Marios Georgiou of Cyprus and Manrique Larduet of Cuba, the two youngest competitors in this all-around final. Georgiou got injured on his very first event, vault, after a bad landing on his DTY but still did parallel bars and high bar where he aggravated his injury and ultimately withdrew from the competition. Larduet started his meet on rings with a solid routine and a score in the low-15s but then had an ankle injury on his front handspring 2.5 twists on vault and scratched the rest of the meet. Injuries are always unfortunate but both of these gymnasts are very young (Marios is 18 and Manrique is 20) and hopefully will heal quickly and come back strong to represent their countries on the international stage for many years.
Overall this all-around final was a great showing of gymnastics and one of the most competitive of the last two quads, proving even long time champions can be challenged and that no medal should be taken for granted. In the end, Kohei Uchimura still came out on top but he will no longer be looked at as an unreachable athlete. Thanks to Oleg Verniaiev we now enter a new era in gymnastics where gold is not immediately attributed to Uchimura before the competition even begins. Men’s gymnastics is changing and I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come in the next quad.
Full results here.
PS: I apologize for taking so long to write about the all-around and event finals but I left for vacation right after event finals and couldn’t take my laptop with me. I promise I’ll try to get everything up to date in the next few days.