• Kyodo, Reuters

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Kenzo Shirai won the men’s floor exercise gold medal for the third time at the artistic gymnastics world championships on Saturday.

Shirai, the all-around bronze medal winner, produced a “Shirai 3,” a double-backward somersault triple-twisting layout named after him, en route to successfully defending his title with 15.633 points.

The 21-year-old, who topped the qualifying round, finished 1.100 ahead of Israel’s Artem Dolgopyat, who scored 14.533 for the silver medal. American Yul Moldauer took the bronze with 14.500.

“I am relieved, said Shirai, the first Japanese to win the men’s world floor gold medal three times.

“I used up a lot of spirit in the all-around final and didn’t have much left for the floor. I am glad I could put on the kind of display that would force (the other competitors) to give up.”

Japan men’s coach Yoshiaki Hatakeda said, “He (Shirai) didn’t have any concerns from practice. He was solid in the all-around, got confidence from that and was comfortable in the apparatus finals.”

Then a 17-year-old high school student, Shirai became Japan’s youngest gymnast to be crowned world champion when he won the floor exercise at the 2013 worlds in Antwerp, Belgium.

He won another gold at the 2015 worlds in Glasgow, Scotland.

In other finals, Olympic champion Max Whitlock became the first British gymnast to retain a world title when he won the pommel horse gold medal. Whitlock, a five-time Olympic medalist, finished with a score of 15.441 to defeat Russian David Belyavskiy (15.100) and China’s Xiao Ruoteng (15.066).

“Making history again, I couldn’t be happier,” said Whitlock, who won Olympic gold medals in floor exercise and pommel horse at the 2016 Rio Games and also the world pommel horse title at Glasgow in 2015.

“It feels amazing. I have always looked up to the guys who get a title and they go back to training and they go and do it again.”

There was also victory for another Rio individual champion, rings gold medalist Eleftherios Petrounias.

The Greek’s mastery of his event, which saw him hailed as the new ‘Lord of the Rings’ after victory at the 2016 Olympics, was on full display again at the world championships.

His score of 15.433 enabled him to add to his 2015 world title by defeating Russia’s 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Denis Abliazin (15.333) and China’s Liu Yang (15.266).

In the women’s competition, Russia’s outstanding Maria Paseka won her third consecutive vault title. Paseka (14.850) was joined on the podium by American Jade Carey (14.766)and Swiss Giulia Steingruber (14.466), the Olympic bronze medalist.

The women’s uneven bars gold was won outright by China’s Fan Yilin, who had shared the title in 2015.

She scored 15.166 to finish ahead of Russia’s Elena Eremina (15.100) and Belgian Nina Derwael (15.033), whose bronze was her country’s first-ever medal at a world championship.

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