And the crowd roared. Officially there are no spectators in Tokyo, but that didn’t prevent an audible intake of breath in the Ariake Arena as Japanese teenager Daiki Hashimoto accelerated his body around the high bar. Nor did it stop a passionate roar when he stuck the landing and punched the air. Teammates, coaches, journalists, photographers, officials, security and that man peering in from the gangway who almost certainly had no affiliation with the Games but had somehow blagged his way in: it felt like half of Tokyo had found an excuse to be here, and who could blame them.
This was yet another iconic moment in what is turning into a joyous Games for Japan, in sporting terms at least. The 19-year-old Hashimoto secured his nation’s third successive all-around Olympic men’s title, and he did so with a thrilling final flourish.
An absorbing night came down to the final apparatus: a high-bar shootout between Russia’s reigning world champion Nikita Nagornyy, China’s experienced Xiao Ruoteng and the young man who surprised them to top qualifying, Hashimoto. These were the same three nations who had fought for team glory two days ago.
Xiao led the scoring into the final round and went first. He finishing in the top four of the past three world championships and had again been a model of consistency throughout this final, but a high-bar score of 14.066 was his lowest of the night, opening the door.
Next came Nagornyy, the 24-year-old Russian with huge expectation on his shoulders. He had suffered an ankle injury in qualifying and reeled back his floor routine’s complexity in the opening round, but used his strength to shine on the rings and catapult himself back into the medal mix. His high bar was cautious, though, and a score of 14.366 was only enough for second place behind Xiao.
Finally came the man the makeshift crowd had been waiting for. Hashimoto’s target splashed across the big screen: 14.534. He gambled, fully committing to a high-difficulty routine which drew admiring “oooos” and anxious “eeees” from those lucky enough to watch on. He twisted and turned with grace; smooth, light, almost silent. He celebrated as he made the landing stick, knowing it had to be close.
The long pause was agonising. Then the score flashed up: 14.933. A gaggle of photographers gave chase as he ran to embrace his teammate and coach, before grabbing the flag of Japan to drape over his young shoulders.
The night did not all go Hashimoto’s way. He started with a flawless floor routine before drawing applause for his magnificent pommel horse, limbs whirring through the air like propellers for his best score of the night, 15.166. But he was punished on the rings. At 19 he has not yet developed the muscles that take years to hone in order to make supporting your entire frame look effortless. It earned him a score of only 13.533, giving away around a point to Xiao and Nagornyy, a significant chunk in a sport of fine margins.
Others came and went. After four apparatus China’s Sun Wei was in the silver medal position, but his wrist buckled on the parallel bars as it took the weight of his body dropping from the sky, and his hopes faded as he grimaced his way through a ragged finish. It was a frustrating evening for Britain too, whose best hope Joe Fraser had qualified in sixth, squeezing him to group one in the final. Fraser fell off the pommel horse and a rueful puff of the cheeks told the story. He still finished a creditable ninth of the 24 finalists, one place behind teammate James Hall.
While others faltered, Hashimoto fought his way back into contention, to fourth, then third, then first at the very last. Japan will probably be knocked off the top of the medal table once athletics comes around and the Team USA machine kicks into gear, but it has been an exceptional Games so far with a raft of Olympic titles in skateboarding, judo, swimming and beyond. Now Hashimoto has added his own piece of history.
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