In the absence of the King, China’s Xiao Ruoteng rose to win his first world championships all-around medal — gold in Montreal on Thursday night.
Xiao, a 21-year-old who was not on China’s Olympic team, came from nearly six tenths behind in the final rotation to overtake Russian David Belyavskiy for the title.
Belyavskiy opened the door by falling on his last routine on high bar, dropping to fourth place, just where he finished in Rio.
The 25-year-old also placed sixth at the 2011 Worlds, fifth at the 2012 Olympics and fifth at the 2014 Worlds. He has never won an Olympic or world all-around medal.
“I only thought of doing the [high bar] exercise from A to Z, without any faults, without the fall, but it happened,” Belyavskiy told media in Montreal. “Maybe I’m just lacking some luck.”
Xiao tallied 86.933 points to become the first Chinese gymnast to take gold since Yang Wei at the 2008 Olympics.
China actually went one-two at the 1976 Olympic Stadium, with Lin Chaopan taking silver with 86.448. Japan’s Kenzo Shirai edged Belyavskiy for bronze.
China redeemed after its worst-ever Olympic men’s gymnastics medal output in Rio — a lone bronze in the team event.
Uchimura, who won every Olympic and world title from 2009 through 2016, withdrew with a left ankle injury in qualifying on Monday. Xiao refused to speculate what would have happened Thursday if Uchimura was in the final.
“Gymnastics is something that you compete with yourself, not against each other,” he said. “So it’s more about doing my best, not considering other competitors.”
Shirai, a 21-year-old roommate of Uchimura, did speculate.
“I feel that if Uchimura was competing today, I would be fourth place,” said Shirai, who was competing in his first major international all-around competition. Before this year, Shirai was a floor exercise and vault specialist — arguably best in the world on both events.
U.S. champion Yul Moldauer was seventh in the 24-man field, competing in his first world championships.
“I hit six for six [routines], and I couldn’t have asked for a better meet,” said Moldauer, a rising University of Oklahoma junior formerly coached by 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Sasha Artemev. “I just need to start building my reputation. … Hopefully, next year, I can be in the top three.”
No American man has earned a world all-around medal since Jonathan Horton‘s bronze in 2010.
Favorite Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine fell off both pommel horse and high bar, finishing eighth.
Verniaiev took silver in Rio, just .099 behind Uchimura.
Worlds continue with the women’s all-around final on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, live on The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on Olympicchannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.
The men return for apparatus finals on Saturday and Sunday, including Moldauer on floor exercise.
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