RIO DE JANEIRO – Gold-medal favorite Kenzo Shirai failed to live up to his billing after falling to a shock fourth-place finish in the men’s floor exercise final at the Rio Olympics on Sunday.
All-around champion Kohei Uchimura was also denied his first-ever Olympic individual apparatus medal after finishing fifth behind gold medalist Max Whitlock of Britain and the Brazilian pair of Diego Hypolito and Arthur Mariano, who claimed silver and bronze, respectively.
“I wasn’t nervous but I was paying too much mind to my routine,” said the 19-year-old Shirai, the two-time floor world champion “Twist Prince” who was expected to add the Olympic title this week at Rio Olympic Arena.
“I knew I had lost as soon as I finished my routine, so I wasn’t so surprised when I saw the score. In qualifying I went for it too much, and in trying to correct that I ended up with something that was neither here nor there. I learned today how important it is to be confident.”
Shirai, whose routine was ranked by far the most difficult of all the eight finalists, was awarded a score of 15.366 after making a slight stumble on one landing and badly botching a second.
That was not enough to catch all-around bronze medalist Whitlock (15.633) or local favorites Hypolito (15.533) and Mariano (15.433), and Shirai admitted that he had not recovered from a patchy qualifying performance.
“In qualifying I felt a pang of fear, but in the team final I sorted that out and I thought I was fine,” said Shirai, who claimed gold along with Uchimura, Yusuke Tanaka, Ryohei Kato and Koji Yamamuro in the team competition on Aug. 7. “But it turns out I hadn’t properly gotten over that, and it showed today.
“I’m a little frustrated that I couldn’t nail my routine, but it wasn’t a huge shock to lose like it was in Nanning (at the 2014 world championships, where Shirai finished second). I knew I hadn’t won as soon as I had finished. I’m frustrated but I’m also focused on competing in the vault tomorrow and I want to get over this and prepare.”
Uchimura had initially ruled himself out of the floor final after injuring himself on his landing from the high bar in Wednesday’s all-around final.
The 27-year-old had a change of heart on Saturday after deciding he had recovered enough to enter, but a clumsy landing on his first set — that saw him penalized for putting a foot out of the area — effectively put paid to his medal chances.
“Yesterday I felt like I might be able to compete but I didn’t think I would be in my best condition,” said Uchimura, who performed first and was immediately knocked out of gold-medal contention by next-in-line Hypolito.
“It hit me more than I thought it would. As I went through my routine I felt how tired I was. From the first set I knew how it was going to pan out. That first set was what decided everything.”
Uchimura’s score of 15.241 put him one place behind Shirai in the final standings, and the all-around master had words of encouragement for his young teammate.
“Winning an Olympic gold medal is a very difficult thing to do,” said Uchimura. “Even if you are someone who has wowed Japan and wowed the whole world and has huge expectations on you, this kind of thing can happen.
“But this experience will be a big plus for him. Kenzo isn’t finished. What he does next is the most important thing. It’s frustrating for me not to see him win the gold medal, but it’s a difficult thing to do. I’m disappointed not to see him do it but I have to praise what he has done to get here.”
Shirai will be back in action on Monday when he competes in the vault final, an apparatus in which he finished seventh at last year’s world championship in Glasgow, Scotland.
“I was confident today but I just wasn’t brave enough,” said Shirai. “If you compare it to the team final, it felt a little bit lonely to be out there with no one to encourage me.”