Maroney, Uchimura get 2nd golds at gym worlds

October 18, 2011 - 3:31 AM
Japan World Gymnastics

Japan's Kohei Uchimura competes during the final of the men's floor exercise at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011. Uchimura won the gold medal. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (AP) — Kohei Uchimura spun off the pommel horse and smiled as he pulled himself upright.

Hey, he and the American women can't win every gold medal at the world gymnastics championships.

McKayla Maroney gave the Americans a sweep of the first three gold medals at worlds by winning the vault title Saturday, and Uchimura took gold on floor exercise about 18 hours after becoming the first man to win three all-around titles.

"It just shows we are the best," Maroney said. "We come for business and that's what we want to do. We all work really, really hard for it."

But other gymnasts do, too, and Uchimura and the Americans were nice enough to let them share in the loot, failing to win any more medals — let alone more gold — the rest of the day.

Jordyn Wieber was fourth on uneven bars, missing the bronze medal by about three-tenths of a point, and Gabby Douglas was fifth. Uchimura finished fifth on pommel horse after a fall and was sixth on still rings.

"It was physically very hard," Uchimura said of the quick turnaround. "It's very hard, but I wanted to show my best to the audience."

Viktoria Komova of Russia finally got her gold, winning uneven bars after going home with silvers in the all-around and team competition. Chen Yibing of China proved he really is "Lord of the Rings" with his fourth title on still rings, where he's also the Olympic champion, and Krisztian Berki won his second straight title on pommel horse.

But there's more heavy metal to be had Sunday, and chances are good Uchimura and the Americans will get some of it. Wieber and Aly Raisman are both competing on balance beam and floor exercise, while Uchimura still has parallel bars and high bar to go.

The Americans got off to a perfect start at worlds, winning the team title followed two days later by Wieber's victory in the all-around. Maroney made it a three-peat — in more ways than one. A U.S. woman has now won the last three vault titles, impressive for a country that had not won the title before Kayla Williams in 2009.

Alicia Sacramone won gold on vault last year, but was unable to defend her title after tearing her Achilles tendon Oct. 6 during training. She returned to the United States, and had surgery on Monday.

"That's just really cool," Maroney said about the three-peat. "It's just great to know I could do that for the U.S."

Vault has always been Maroney's favorite event, and it's easy to see why. The 15-year-old from Laguna Niguel, Calif., does one of the hardest vaults in the world — a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the vault and then 2.5 twists before landing — yet manages to make it look effortless. She soared high above the vault, and her legs were ruler-straight as she twisted.

She took a small step to steady herself on her landing, then threw her hands into the air with a big smile.

"Vault has always just kind of come naturally for me. It's more something that I just do for fun," Maroney said. "I don't get nervous, I just do it."

Quite well, too. She finished with 15.30 points, more than a half-point in front of Oksana Chusovitina of Germany.

No one could have blamed Uchimura if he'd mailed it in Saturday. He was at the arena until late Friday, then had to turn around and come right back Saturday morning. But he opened with a huge tumbling pass that had the crowd oohing, ahhing and clapping.

"Everything he does is impressive," said American Steve Legendre, who was fifth on floor. "I think today he was just going out there and having fun. It definitely worked for him on floor exercise.

Uchimura's score was initially posted as a 15.433, drawing boos from the crowd. But one of the Japanese coaches immediately filed an inquiry with the judges, who realized they had undervalued one of Uchimura's skills. His revised score of 15.633 was enough to keep him in front of Zou Kai of China, the Beijing Olympics and 2009 world champion on floor.

But Uchimura looked gassed, shaking out his legs as he walked off the floor. Sure enough, he fell on pommel horse and had major form breaks on still rings. When he finished his rings routine, he tapped his chest and smiled.

"Very much," he said when asked if he was drained. "After pommel horse, I felt very tired."

Even if he wasn't, he would have had a hard time catching Chen.

Still rings is all about brute strength, an event so physically demanding spectators wince just watching. But Chen is so masterful, he makes it look easy, beautiful even. He holds his strength positions with perfect stillness, the only sign of exertion the bulging veins in his neck and arms. He moves effortlessly from one skill to another.

And when he lifted his body into a plane, his arms extended, his back so straight you could iron on it. When Chen's feet slammed into the mat with a thud heard 'round the arena, he playfully stuck out his tongue and gave a fist pump to each side of the arena. Before walking off the podium, he kissed one of the support poles.

"The apparatus does not belong to China, the apparatus does not belong to Japan," Chen said through a translator. "I just want to show my best performance, a high-quality performance, to the audience from all over the world."