STUTTGART, Germany — Russia is dominating men’s gymnastics like no other time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. It’s bringing swagger back, too.
“It’s just a different time, get used to it,” Nikita Nagornyy said after leading a Russian one-two in the world championships all-around final on Friday, two days after Russia won its first world team title since the Soviet era. He planned to celebrate with a cup of coffee and pasta bolognese.
Nagornyy and Artur Dalaloyan, the gold and silver medalists, represent a new, victorious time for the Russian program. They are young, 22 and 23, They are tattooed. Nagornyy is married to fellow Olympic medalist Daria Spiridonova. Dalaloyan is engaged with a daughter.
“I don’t have any more emotions because we put all of them into the team competition,” Nagornyy said after winning the all-around by 1.607 points over Dalaloyan, the 2018 World all-around champion who nearly sat down his vault.
Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev, who missed gold in Rio by .099, took bronze after seeing 2017 World champ Xiao Ruoteng of China and American Sam Mikulak drop in the standings.
Mikulak was seventh, again seeing medal hopes dashed by a critical late mistake, coming off the pommel horse. He was 1.282 points out of a medal after incurring that point penalty for falling on a skill he believed he needed to contend.
“It was kind of just rolling the dice a little bit,” said Mikulak, who has finished fifth, sixth and seventh (twice) in Olympic or world all-arounds, but never made the medal stand. “If [it] had been the perfect skill, I would have been second or third.”
Mikulak, a two-time Olympian and six-time U.S. champion, led at the halfway point and was in fourth place when he came off the horse in the fifth of six rotations. He eked into the final in 27th place in qualifying, where he fell four times.
He left the competition with an award, though, a watch in a box for the Longines Prize for Elegance. However, if Mikulak does not earn a medal in Sunday’s high bar final, it will mark the first Olympics or world championships that the U.S. failed to make a men’s event podium since 2009.
Nagornyy will like this statistic going into the Tokyo Games: The last four men to win the world all-around title the year before the Olympics went on to win the Olympic title: Paul Hamm, Yang Wei and Kohei Uchimura twice.
Uchimura, the Japanese legend with a record six world all-around titles, is absent from a worlds for the first time since 2007, missing the Japanese team while injured. He is questionable to make the Olympic team despite being one of Japan’s most recognizable athletes.
This is the first year China and Japan were shut out of the team and all-around gold medals at an Olympics or worlds since 1992.
Japan’s results the last two years have been especially concerning a year before it hosts the Olympics — bronze in the team event and a top finish of sixth in the all-around, its worst collective results since 2001.
Nagornyy, though young, saw that Japanese dominance up close at the Rio Games. He has the date of the Rio Olympic team final tattooed in Roman numerals on the inside of his left forearm, celebrating Russia’s first Olympic team medal since 2000 (a silver).
He has another tattoo on his ribs, “salvame y guardame,” which roughly translates to “save and protect me” in Spanish and is a common Russian Orthodox phrase.
Will he get another to commemorate these last two gold medals, or perhaps one in Tokyo?
“I will think about it,” he said. “We should not say anything in advance. We just need to work, and our work will show if it is possible or not.”
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