One of the great hopes of a home Olympics for Japan was the opportunity for the greatest male gymnast of all time, Kohei Uchimura, to receive a victorious sendoff into the night on home soil. That dream died cruelly in its swiftness; a fall on his solitary routine in the qualifying round. But over the past three days of competition, in his place the talent of a new young hope has sprouted to immediately replace him.
In his stead, Daiki Hashimoto has risen to become the Olympic men’s all-around champion at just 19 years old and after a breathless, tight final in which 0.4 pts separated the top three spots.
The teenager scored 88.465 to hold off the soaring Chinese gymnast Xiao Ruoteng and the man who just bested him in the team final, Nikita Nagornyy of the Russian Olympic Committee, to take his place at the centre of the sport.
As Hashimoto thrived, Great Britain enjoyed a mixed day. James Hall put together six solid routines and the consistency that saw him through the qualifying rounds and the six events he also contributed during the team final was rewarded with an eighth-place finish, his joint-highest finish in a major world-level competition.
In the process, he felt that he proved doubts wrong. “Maybe that is just the voices in my head but today I was able to prove to myself and the people back home that I belong here,” he said. “I am happy with my performance and that is the main thing.”
While Joe Fraser finished with a solid ninth place, he struggled during parts before redeeming himself at the close. “I will hold that over him for ever now,” said Hall. “He did amazingly, he made a couple of mistakes but he’s the future of British gymnastics. He is unbelievable. He hasn’t got a weak piece, all he needs is consistency. He’s 22, he has time and I am excited to see what he comes up with.”
There is little doubt that Fraser has the ability to become a top all-around gymnast. He has already demonstrated his potential in two stratospheric competition days in Tokyo. He qualified in fifth place behind gymnasts from the sport’s three men’s superpowers – Japan, the ROC, and China – allowing him the experience of rotating throughout the final with the best. Then, in the team final, he anchored Great Britain to a fourth-place finish.
This time, Fraser’s top-five hopes were scuppered on just the second apparatus as he lost his momentum on the pommel horse and fell off, scoring 13.300. He then struggled on his vault, taking several large steps forward and was punished with a 13.100. But his spirit was perhaps reflected more in how he finished, piecing together a solid routine on his favoured parallel bars before going for broke with a spectacular, showboating horizontal-bar routine.
“I made a few mistakes along the way, that’s gymnastics, mistakes happen and I take it on the chin and try to improve moving into the next apparatus,” said Fraser. “I tried to put on a show on high bar so to get through that routine was great, it’s the first time I’ve done that routine in a competition. So to do it on the biggest stage in the world, I’m very happy with that.”
A chance for a strong finish remains. Fraser qualified for the parallel-bar final, the apparatus on which he became world champion in 2019. “I’m excited for the parallel-bar final, I’ve got six days to rest and recover and get myself ready for the final. All the top people in the world all fighting it out on the parallel bars so I can’t wait.”
In the US and many other western countries, the women’s gymnasts have usually captured public imagination far more than the men. But in Japan, men’s gymnastics is in far greater health.
Their faith rewarded, Hashimoto’s all-around gold medal means Japan now has an unbroken string of three Olympic all-around titles after Uchimura’s 2012 and 2016 double. When inevitably asked about the old legend, who Hashimoto naturally cites as his idol, he coolly gave credit to the past while looking ahead to the future: “Although I want to follow what Uchimura has built and founded in the last decades in gymnastics, I want to lead as a next-generation gymnast in Japan.”