Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura won a record fourth all-around world championship beating Japanese compatriot Ryohei Kato in a final that had a sense of inevitability from the start Thursday.
Uchimura opened with the best floor exercise of the six top qualifiers, and was in command the rest of the way. He mixed strength, poise and elegance in every discipline, setting himself apart and reinforcing his reputation as the greatest in the history of the sport.
"I always do my own things," Uchimura said. "I don’t think about rivals."
Such is his mastery that he doesn’t have to.
Even though Uchimura already held the men’s record for all-around world titles, he still shared it overall with retired women’s great Svetlana Khorkina of Russia, who also won three.
And at 24, he can continue to dominate for years to come. "I want to continue until Tokyo 2020," he said about the Olympic Games his nation will stage.
German veteran Fabian Hambuechen, the bronze medalist, has competed against Uchimura for years and has no doubt he is the greatest.
"Yeah, sure," he said in awe. "He has no weak event."
Uchimura bore testimony to that, finishing in the top three of each of the six events.
"He is just like in a tunnel. Doing his thing. Not being nervous at all, and just concentrating on his routines. That is very special," Hambuechen said.
Uchimura also qualified for the weekend floor exercise, high bar and parallel bar finals.
In the contest for the other medals, Sam Mikulak of the U.S. made a decisive error late in his high bar routine and instead of challenging for silver he ended up sixth.
"That is gymnastics. One second you’re on. One second you are off. It’s fine," he said.
Hambuechen started with a weak pommel horse routine, but his evening-long chase ended with a great floor exercise and the bronze.
Uchimura finished with 91.990 points, almost a massive two points ahead of Kato, who had 90.032. Hambuechen finished with 89.332. Britain’s Max Whitlock was fourth with 89.031.
A difference in style was immediately visible on the opening floor exercise when it still looked like a U.S-Japanese fight for gold. Mikulak was smiling broadly, pumping his fists and acknowledging the crowd. Uchimura left the floor seemingly subdued, giving a small nod and a handshake to his coach. It is this kind of serenity, this inner resolve, that has set apart Uchimura.
At the end of the evening though, after he landed from the high bar, Uchimura bowed, offered a wide grin and raised his fists, as if he had finally landed back on earth.
Uchimura has been untouchable since winning the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. And, if his performance at the worlds is any preview, that will last.
"He does what he does. Year after year, he goes out, hits his routines, has that strong composure," Mikulak said.
Uchimura began gymnastics when he was three, starting in a gym his father built in the family home in Nagasaki. As a teen, Uchimura looked up to Naoya Tsukahara, son of Japanese icon Mitsuo Tsukahara. So when he was 15, Uchimura left home to train at Tsukahara’s gym in Tokyo. Soon after, his international career started and he has not looked back.
"I would definitely say he is the greatest," Mikulak said. "Four world championships and Olympic champion. So, he is definitely stacking in all the medals. Kohei is the man everybody is coming after."