TOKYO: Sunisa Lee claimed the coveted all-around gold medal many expected to see go to her United States teammate Simone Biles, as the gymnastics competition moved on without its biggest star.
With Biles watching from the front row at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Lee clinched gold in the all-around to secure the title for the United States for a fifth consecutive Games on the final rotation – the floor exercise – to post a winning total of 57.433.
Surprise package 22-year-old Brazilian Rebeca Andrade, who had topped the rankings most of the evening, grabbed the silver for her country’s first ever medal in women’s gymnastics.
Russian Angelina Melnikova completed the podium taking the bronze for the ROC.
Considered heir apparent to Biles, 18-year-old Lee had her moment arrive sooner than expected.
Biles, winner of every all-around competition she entered since 2013, threw the fight for the Olympic gold wide open when she decided not to defend her Rio Games all-around title having dropped out of the team event on Tuesday after one poor vault citing the need to focus on her mental health.
Meanwhile, a Japan saddened last weekend by the abrupt end of one gymnastic king’s storied Olympic career hailed the ascent of his heir.
Daiki Hashimoto topped the podium on Wednesday in the men’s all-around gymnastics final with an electrifying horizontal bar routine, becoming at 19 both the youngest-ever men’s Olympic gymnastics all-around champion and also winning Japan’s 100th overall Olympic medal in the sport.
That was more than enough for Japan to anoint him their new gymnastics hope, following the end of “King Kohei” Uchimura’s storied Olympic career – including two consecutive Olympic golds in the men’s all-around – when he fell from the horizontal bar and didn’t make it to the final apparatus rounds.
“Uchimura’s heir is born,” blared a headline on the “Sanspo” sports daily, while the Yomiuri Shimbun daily paid tribute to Hashimoto saying “Nineteen and hugely shining”. Searching “Daiki Hashimoto” on Yahoo Japan brought up automatic sprays of golden “confetti.”
“Uchimura was amazing, but this kid has gone one better by winning gold,” wrote one reader on Japan Yahoo.
“A new era, a new generation!” — Reuters
Hashimoto, who grew up just east of Tokyo, followed two older brothers into gymnastics, tagging along with them to their training club and repeatedly begging to be taught.
The coach told him to wait until he was older but finally had to give in because Hashimoto would play on the equipment and cut across in front of the vault table as people were preparing to run.
His formal training started at six.
The gym was at a disused school with equipment passed down from other clubs and the rings suspended from the basketball backboard, Japanese media said. To get enough length to vault, they had to open the gym’s doors and run in from the entryway – a humble beginning many lauded.