Uchimura Claims Fifth World All-Around Title
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Max Whitlock (silver), Kohei Uchimura (gold), Yusuke Tanaka (bronze).

With a brilliant six-event performance in Nanning during the men's all-around final, Kohei Uchimura etched another indelible mark on the sport with his fifth consecutive world title. And it came only two days after his Japanese team finished a tenth short of ending China's team dominance that began in 2003. Yes, he smiled and fist pumped after each hit routine, but the 25-year-old from Nagasaki would surely have traded his individual gold for team glory.

Uchimura defeated runner-up Max Whitlock, 91.965-90.473. Whitlock was a late replacement for his British teammate Nile Wilson, who had been bothered by a sore wrist. The bronze went to Uchimura's teammate Yusuke Tanaka (90.449), while Ukraine's Oleg Vernyayev finished a frustrated fourth with 90.298, having touched a hand on his rings dismount in the second rotation. Second-seed David Belyavsky of Russia was in the mix until high bar, where his low-difficulty set (6.3) left him in fifth (89.765). Third-seed Deng Shudi, armed with the highest combined Start Value of the field, broke on pommels (muscled a scissor handstand) and could never recover. He finished sixth (89.732).

Uchimura began his meet with the top floor routine of the meet (15.766), sticking each landing to perfection. But he trailed Whitlock, who absolutely nailed his 7.4-pommel horse to lead the event with 16.00. But after the second rotation, where Uchimura swung a silky 15.133 on pommels, and Whitlock notched only 14.466 on his weakest event, rings, the four-time defending champ took the lead.

Uchimura continued his hit parade on rings, where he stuck his double-double like a dart, a landing he repeated on vault after a handspring-randi. The wide grin on his face after that stick was priceless; as though he had impressed even himself.

With a comfortable lead over an ever-changing field of contenders in his wake, Uchimura finally cracked a bit on parallel bars, where he did a low peach and needed a hop on his double pike dismount. He still scored 15.200. Last up on high bar, Uchimura did not hold back, throwing a Cassina and linking a half-Takemoto to Kolman. And while he needed another small hop on his dismount, his body language revealed a deep satisfaction for going clean for the third time in Nanning. As in prelims, which he won by 1.417, he was the only gymnast to score at least 15.00 on each event. He won the all-around final by 1.492. In comparison, ranks 2-7 finished .908 apart.

For Whitlock, silver seemed good as gold, and he matched fellow Brit Daniel Keatings, who placed second in 2009 for Britain's first world all-around medal.

Whitlock had been upgrading his routines since the London Olympics, and the final product proved effective in Nanning. Beyond his pommel horse upgrades, he learned a triple-twisting Yurchenko, which he nearly stuck here (great block off the table). He hit is relatively low-value routines on p-bars and high bar, but closed with a 6.7-set on floor, which included plenty of sticks. Under the circumstances, he could not have had a better meet.

"It was amazing to come second to Kohei Uchimura," said Whitlock, 21, who is coached by Scott Hann. "When you're up against such a strong field, you've just got to go all out."

Tanaka avoided the big error that he had in the team final (p-bars), and his clean execution paid off with the bronze. Trailing Uchimura in D-score by 1.3, he posted the top high bar routine (15.500) and second-best p-bars set (15.883).

With a 0.5 edge in difficulty over Uchimura, Vernyayev settled for fourth, which was quite a comeback after falling on his rings dismount. His p-bars (stuck barani-out) garnered the highest score of the meet on any event (16.033), and his Dragulescu was the second-best vault.

After Deng was an impressive Sergio Sasaki (Brazil) in seventh. German veteran Fabian Hambüchen, the defending bronze medalist, climbed from 24th place after rotation one (pommels for him) to finish eighth, closing with strong routines on p-bars, high bar and floor. (The top eight are eligible to compete in the World Cup.) Russia's Nikolai Kuksenkov and Colombia's Jossimar Calvo completed the top 10 in order.

In place to win silver a year ago, American Sam Mikulak finished 12th. He took a zone deduction on his Lopez vault, and fell from p-bars on a peach. His high bar suffered, as well, although he did post the third-highest floor score and the fourth best on rings, which used to be a weak event for him.

Mikulak's younger teammate Donnell Whittenburg, 17th, earned the top rings score (15.266, layout double-double), but touched down on his Dragulescu and struggled on p-bars (peach sequence). But he took it all in stride.

"It was definitely a great experience to be on the same floor as the best guys in the world," said Whittenburg, 20. "It was definitely an eye opener. I didn't have the best day, but that happens in this sport."

For Uchimura, winning a world title in China may have softened the team final blow a bit. And since there is no guarantee Japan will overtake its nemesis anytime soon, he might as well enjoy the streak he's been on since his first world title in 2009. His third in 2011 was a first for a male gymnast, his fourth last year was historic for the entire sport. So what do we make of his fifth? Nothing right now. Apparently, he's not finished breaking his own records.

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