TOKYO (Reuters) -Russia ended Asia’s domination of the Olympic gymnastics men’s team event on Monday when they survived a ferocious fightback from China and Japan at the Tokyo Games to claim the gold medal for the first time in 25 years.
Russia, competing in Tokyo as representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) because the country has been stripped of its flag and anthem for doping offences, posted a winning total of 262.500 points to go top of the podium for the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Games.
What was expected to be a tight, tense battle between defending champions Japan, Russia and China was exactly that as the three powerhouses swapped places over the six rotations.
The ROC managed to snatch victory only after Nikita Nagornyy, the last athlete to compete, delivered a pressure-packed floor routine to secure gold for his team by 0.103 of a point over the host nation.
“There was news this morning that there was a typhoon moving towards Tokyo,” Nagornyy told reporters. “Well, the typhoon made it here and took gold and is sitting in front of you now.”
China had entered the final rotation topping the standings by 0.604 of a point but finished with the bronze medal for the second consecutive Games.
Britain were fourth and the United States fifth.
Familiar foes once again battled it out for the medals as Japan, Russia and China have claimed every men’s team gold since the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, with the exception of the Soviet-boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Games when the United States claimed the top prize.
“We have been working for this medal for a long time. This has taken 25 years,” said Russia’s Denis Abliazin. “I think we will realise that we are Olympic champions only tomorrow.”
JAPAN TURN UP PRESSURE
But it is doubtful that many previous battles have produced the nail-biting drama that filled the Ariake Gymnastics Centre empty of spectators due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Through three of the six rotations, the ROC appeared to be heading for a romp after constructing a 2.6-point advantage over Japan, a poor effort by Daiki Hashimoto on the rings doing much of the damage for the host nation after he earned only 13.833.
Over the next hour the gap closed and by the time the teams stepped up to their final apparatus, everything was to play for.
Japan, third coming into their last event, turned up the pressure when Hashimoto atoned for his weak effort on the rings with a dazzling, high-flying display on the horizontal bar that drew him a mark of 15.100.
The score vaulted the hosts over China and into the lead as Nagornyy, the reigning world all-around champion, waited on the edge of the stage for his turn to compete on the floor exercise.
“We came in for gold and ended up with silver, which we have to accept,” said Japan’s Kazuma Kaya. “But we missed by only 0.1 point which seems wide….We could have got gold, but depending on fate we could also have got bronze.”
An emotionless Nagornyy powered his way through his routine then joined team mates Abliazin, Artur Dalaloyan and David Belyavskiy to nervously stare up at the scoreboard as China and Japan did the same.
When the score finally flashed on to the board, the emotions the Russian quartet had tried to contain exploded in tears and joy.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Tokyo. Additional reporting Elaine Lies, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber. Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon)