After four straight runner-up finishes to China, Japan finally won the gold.
After four consecutive runner-up finishes to China at a world championships, Japan tried to make it five in Glasgow. They really did. But the perfection they had exhibited throughout the first four rotations in this thrilling team final gave them enough cushion to finally win a world team title over its nemesis.
And a day after the British women made history by winning bronze, the first team medal for Great Britain, the men's team grabbed the first team silver for their country with an inspired performance, start to finish.
China came to Glasgow as winner of six straight world titles, but it struggled early with a fall on its second event, pommels, and was never in the hunt until it surged into the mix with the highest parallel bars total in rotation five (47.765). The Chinese finished on high bar, where a year ago Zhang Chenglong dumped Japan to second by 0.10 with the last routine of the meet. This time, however, he opened early on a half-Takemoto and finished on the wrong side of the bar. That was enough to end China's gold medal hopes.
With Kohei Uchimura working all six events, Japan took the first-event lead with a 47.258 on floor, anchored by Kenzo Shirai's 16.325. After going three-for-three on pommels, anchored by another youngster, Kazuma Kaya (15.40), Uchimura and teammates were all smiles, knowing they had survived one of the toughest events in the sport.
After getting through its weak event, rings, Japan posted the second-best vault total (45.766) and looked to increase its lead on the last two events. It didn't happen. The U.S. had climbed to within 0.10 of the leaders with the top high bar total of 46.065 (Chris Brooks, 14.933; Paul Ruggeri, 15.466; Danell Leyva, 15.666).
Japan's invincibility began to crumble on p-bars when Yusuke Tanaka fell off on a peach-half. But Uchimura, whose conviction to win a world team title has only grown with each excruciating loss, anchored with a clutch routine and a stuck double pike.
After watching China post a respectable 44.399 on high bar and 269.959 total, Japan needed only to avoid disaster to win the gold. Veteran Ryohei Kato opened Japan's final event with an excellent routine (Kolman) and a stuck layout double-double. Tanaka was next, having just ruined Japan's immaculate performance in the previous rotation. He began aggressively and slung his massive Cassina high in the air, only to peel and crash to the mat below. Were Japan's hopes of winning literally slipping through their fingertips? When Uchimura ripped off after his Cassina, nobody was smiling anymore in the Japanese camp. Talk about pressure routines. To their credit, both Tanaka and Uchimura performed near flawlessly after their falls. And when their winning total of 270.818 was finally flashed, tears flooded the faces of the Japanese gymnasts.
"This is a team competition, and I was the last to compete," Uchimura said. "And I really wanted to have a perfect routine, so I feel really bad. But I have never won a team competition, and even though it wasn't perfect, we still won the gold medal. The next time I am the last competitor, I want to do what is expected of the last competitor."
Great Britain's fate was up in the air heading to floor in the final rotation, and they controlled their own destiny with the second-highest floor total (44.999). Max Whitlock ended with a stellar 15.766. The British men, who were steady throughout six rotations, totaled 270.345 to stay ahead of China. Vault, in particular, was a key event for the Brits, who hit three difficult vaults: Brinn Bevan (Tsukahara-double pike); Max Whitlock (Yurchenko-triple twist); and Kristian Thomas (Yurchenko-double pike).
"To be honest, there was pressure, but the amount of support that goes with that was unbelievable," said Whitlock, the last performer on floor for Great Britain. "The crowd was absolutely crazy today, and it helped us get these silver medals round our necks today."
Russia, in third after four events, dropped to fourth with 268.362. Highlights included Denis Ablyazin's Ri Se Gwang vault, which he landed with a small hop.
The U.S., second through five rotations with a near perfect effort, dropped to fifth (267.853), the same rank it earned in qualifications. The Americans finished the meet on pommel horse, where it had a few breaks, but fourth was probably more realistic than a medal for this team. Such was the depth on display in this team final, which was hardly the case the day before when the women took the floor.
"We knew we had other events that could be frustrating, but it's really just a matter of going out there and doing everything that we could, and we did that," Alex Naddour said.
Completing the eight-team field in order were Switzerland (261.660), Korea (260.035) and Brazil (259.577).
Be sure to check out the IG Facebook page for live quick hits of all the action this week.