LONDON – Mistakes from Koji Yamamuro and Kazuhito Tanaka proved costly as Japan took a back seat to China once again and settled for the silver medal in a controversial men’s gymnastics team final at the London Games on Monday.
The Japanese had initially finished outside the medals in fourth place, but the team launched an appeal about men’s all-around world champion Kohei Uchimura’s score in the final rotation on the pommel horse.
After a lengthy deliberation by officials, the inquiry was accepted and Japan was moved up to second while Britain dropped to third, triggering loud boos and cheers from a fiercely partisan home crowd at North Greenwich Arena. Ukraine, which was tentatively in third, missed out on the bronze and finished fourth with 271.526.
“I didn’t land properly (on the pommel horse) but (before that) made a difficult maneuver at the end. It should have been counted but the judge didn’t count it,” Uchimura said.
“I am obviously disappointed that we didn’t get the gold medal and ended up with the silver, but looking back all five of us enjoyed ourselves. That feeling is stronger than any disappointment I have.”
Uchimura said he was hoping simply to get through Wednesday’s individual all-round final without mistakes rather than think about the gold that would add to his three consecutive all-around world gold medals.
“I have not performed without making mistakes in either the qualification here or the team final so rather than think about aiming for the gold, I just want to focus on doing well on all six apparatuses.”
Led by the outstanding Zou Kai, China’s team, in sharp contrast, was flawless in successfully defending its title, comfortably winning the gold with 275.997 points. Japan scored 271.952 and Britain got 271.711 for the bronze, its first Olympic team medal in 100 years.
Uchimura, who made uncharacteristic errors in the qualifiers here on Saturday, had come to London insisting the team gold medal that has eluded Japan in major competitions since the 2004 Athens Games was his primary target.
Japan finished second to China at the Beijing Olympics and also at the last three team events at the world championships in 2007, 2010 and 2011. There was no team event at the London worlds in 2009. Japan has not won a team gold at the worlds since 1978.
In Monday’s final, Uchimura and his teammates made a solid start on the rings, with Yamamuro leading the team with 15.366 points for third place overall with 45.699 after the first rotation.
But Yamamuro cost his team points on the vault and was hit with a penalty after an awkward and painful landing. He limped off the mat and was given a piggy back and taken out of the arena by coach Hiroyuki Tomita.
Despite strong performances from Uchimura, Tanaka and younger brother Yusuke Tanaka on the horizontal bar, the Chinese were more than two points ahead of Japan after the fourth rotation and never looked like relinquishing their lead.
Japan’s hopes of closing the gap dimmed further when Kazuhito Tanaka stumbled on his landing on the floor and scored 13.733 before a miserable night for the eldest of the three Tanaka gymnast siblings competing here with a lowly 13.433 on the pommel horse.
“Koji got injured halfway through, but as a team we never gave up fighting until the end,” said Kazuhito Tanaka, who filled in for Yamamuro on the pommel horse.
“I could not fill in properly for Koji on the pommel horse and I am disappointed with the mistakes I have made on both days here.”
With home fans cheering loudly as the Brits competed on their final rotation on the floor, Uchimura was forced to wait to start his routine on the pommel horse and admitted he had been a little bit distracted when even louder roars went up after he started his routine.
“The cheers were amazing when Britain was finishing up and I tried not to let it bother me, but I could not stop it from going into my ears and the wave of local support got the better of me, I guess.”
“When it came on the scoreboard that we were fourth I was lost for words and I wondered what all the work I had put in until now was for. Fourth or second, it doesn’t change much for me but this final left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth,” Uchimura said.