BEIJING - Gymnast Kohei Uchimura overcame two falls on the pommel horse to grab the silver medal in the men’s all-around competition at the Beijing Olympics on Thursday, giving Japan its first medal in the event in 24 years.
The 19-year-old accumulated 91.975 points on six apparatuses, 2.6 short of China’s two-time world champion Yang Wei, who outclassed his rivals at National Indoor Stadium and won the gold.
Frenchman Benoit Caranobe got the bronze, and Japan’s Hiroyuki Tomita finished in fourth place.
Uchimura, who made his Olympic debut in Beijing and helped Japan take the silver medal in the team contest Tuesday, became the ninth Japanese medalist in the men’s all-around and the first since current team manager Kenji Gushiken’s gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
“I was feeling really down after falling on the pommel horse, so the silver medal in that situation made me very happy,” Uchimura said.
“After the mistake, I told myself to move as usual and went for the landing and it worked.”
Told that the last medal won by a compatriot in the all-around was Gushiken’s, the Nippon Sport Science University student said he will work hard so that the color of his medal will turn gold, just like Gushiken’s, in the next Olympics.
Japan’s medal hopes appeared to have been thwarted at the halfway point of the 24-man all-around final when Tomita was in 21st place and Uchimura in 23rd.
Uchimura steadily made his way up the standing and was sitting on top as he waited for Yang’s score on their last apparatus — the horizontal bar — as well as his total mark to be announced.
Yang, the Chinese silver medalist at the 2000 Sydney Games, who was the favorite to win Thursday, had pulled off solid routines until the fifth apparatus to amass a 2.5-point lead that allowed him to take the gold, even with a slightly wobbly routine on the bar.
Tomita, meanwhile, had a major mishap on the rings when he made a mistake in a move during his routine and then released his left hand too early for his landing to crash on the mat, but rebounded with clean routines in his remaining three apparatuses.
Still, the efforts of the 2005 world champion, who was seeking to become the first Japanese to win the all-around title in both the worlds and the Olympics, were not enough to give him a spot on the podium at National Indoor Stadium.
Tomita, who was the driving force when the Japanese team claimed gold at the Athens Olympics four years ago, notched the best score of the day on the horizontal bar — also his last apparatus — to improve his placing by five spots and come within 0.175 point of a medal.
The 27-year-old Osaka native, who was sixth in the all-around in 2004, said one of the rings slipped from his hand in the landing, adding, “It was a completely unexpected mistake. There was nothing I could do.”
Although he injured his neck, shoulder and lower back, Tomita said he did not give up until the end as he had been given the opportunity to compete in the event by taking the place of teammate Koki Sakamoto, who had a better score than he did in the qualifying.
While only up to two gymnasts per national Olympic committee can advance to the all-around final, Gushiken said after the qualification round Saturday that Tomita — third best among the Japanese — would take one spot due to his experience.