- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

LONDON — Kohei Uchimura grabbed a Japanese flag and held it above his head as he paraded around the arena.

He may have craved the team gold, but an Olympic all-around title isn’t a bad consolation prize.

The three-time world champion bolstered his argument for being perhaps the greatest male gymnast ever Wednesday, running away with the Olympic all-around title. And just as it’s been since he finished second at the Beijing Olympics, it wasn’t even close.

Uchimura’s score of 92.690 was more than 1.5 points ahead of Germany’s Marcel Nguyen.

Danell Leyva added another step in his incredible journey from Cuban refugee, closing the day with spectacular routines on parallel bars and high bar to win the bronze medal. When Leyva saw his high bar score, guaranteeing him a medal, he pumped his fist and threw a few roundhouse punches while his energetic stepfather and coach, Yin Alvarez, hopped up and down.

Leyva joins 2004 champion Paul Hamm as the only U.S. men to win Olympic all-around medals since 1984.

Uchimura made no secret of how badly he craved a team gold, saying earlier this year he was “fed up” at always finishing second to China. Japan has been runner-up to the Chinese at the Beijing Olympics and the last four world championships.

But the internal pressure may have proved too much, because Uchimura was uncharacteristically off in preliminaries, finishing ninth after falling off both high bar and pommel horse. He wasn’t much better in the team finals, botching his pommel horse routine again and needing a score review just to get Japan the silver medal.

Whatever ailed him, it was gone Wednesday, and the gold was all but his after the third event. He was so far ahead by the final event that he could have taken a splat or two and still won. Not that he would have.

What makes Uchimura so special is that he doesn’t seem to have any flaws. When Yang Wei was running roughshod over the competition in the last Olympic cycle, winning a pair of world titles and the gold medal in Beijing, he did it through sheer strength, bulking up his routines with so much difficulty he started most meets two or three points ahead.

But there’s an “art” in artistic gymnastics, and Yang didn’t have it. He managed to win one of his world titles despite taking such a big fall on high bar that he rolled all the way off the mat to the edge of the podium.

Uchimura has the tough tricks, but does them with such elegance and precision that his routines look more like performance art. His tumbling passes are so big he could throw in another twist or two, yet he lands them so securely there’s got to be some sticky tape on his feet. He’s so precise that when he did land a pass low, needing to put his hands down to steady himself, it drew a gasp from the crowd.

No need to worry, though. After finishing his routine, he gave a slight bow as a big smile broke across his face.

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