RIO DE JANEIRO — Kohei Uchimura stepped off the floor, saluted the crowd inside Rio Olympic Arena and bent over. Symbolically, it looked as if the Japanese gymnast was overcome by the moment after clinching the Olympic team gold he’s pursued during his otherwise unparalleled career.
Nope. The reason the six-time world champion and defending all-around Olympic titlist found himself with his hands on his knees gasping for breath was more pragmatic than poetic.
“I was just exhausted,” he said.
And relieved. No more questions about whether he can beat top rival China on the biggest stage. His status as the greatest of all time is no longer in doubt. Turns out his team — Koji Yamamuro, Ryohei Kato, Yusuke Tanaka and Kenzo Shirai — is pretty good, too.
Japan’s total of 274.094 was more than two points better than Russia and nearly three clear than the Chinese, who couldn’t lock down a third straight Olympic title thanks to a series of small but crucial missteps the Japanese simply didn’t make. Britain finished fourth while another slow start in the Olympic finals dropped the United States to fifth.
The U.S. men were second in qualifying on Saturday and pointed to their experience as a key to avoiding their meltdown four years ago in London, when they topped preliminaries but slid to fifth in the finals.
“In a lot of ways, these guys performed better than I feel we did in London,” Williams said. “We fought through everything and there’s no giving up. Gymnastics is hard and there are a lot of good teams out there on the men’s side.”
Red, white and blase for one quarter, the U.S. Olympic team woke up and won with ease.
Shaking off a sluggish, sloppy start and maybe some Brazilian boredom, the Americans regrouped in the second quarter and romped over Venezuela 113-69, taking another step toward a possible third straight gold medal.
Kevin Durant scored 16 points and Carmelo Anthony 14 for the U.S. squad, which may have grown a touch overconfident following a 57-point blowout of China in its tournament opener.
The Americans were tied after one quarter, but turned up their defensive intensity, outscored Venezuela 30-8 in the second period and improved to 82-1 under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“I think once we settled down, made our adjustments to the way they were calling the game, the way that Venezuela wanted to play the game, that second quarter we picked it up defensively and turned it around,” Anthony said.
China is 2-for-2 in Olympic diving, winning the men’s 10-meter synchronized platform title. Chen Aisen and Lin Yue dominated the event, totaling 496.98 points.
Americans David Boudia and Steele Johnson earned silver with 457.11. Tom Daley and Daniel Goodfellow of Britain took bronze with 445.45, rallying from fifth place after the fourth of six rounds.
Russia’s Yana Egorian scored the final two points to stun teammate Sofya Velikaya 15-14 and win the gold medal in women’s sabre fencing, the first such meeting between two Russians in 20 years.
Egorian’s winning last touch left Velikaya, a two-time world champion, with back-to-back silver medals in the Olympics.
World record holder Chen Lijun pulled out of the men’s 62-kilogram class because of leg cramps, which opened the class for Oscar Albeiro Figueroa Mosquera of Colombia to win gold.
Sukanya Srisurat and Pimsiri Sirikaew gave Thailand its first gold and silver medals in an Olympic event by going 1-2 in the women’s 58-kilogram class.
Australia won the first gold medal for rugby sevens at the Olympics, beating archrival New Zealand 24-17 in the women’s final.
The women’s world series champions conceded an early try to Kayla McAlister but rallied with two tries before halftime and another two after the break to take a 24-5 lead.
Japan’s Shohei Ono won the gold medal in the men’s 73-kilogram division, defeating Azerbaijan’s Rustam Orujov.
Ono is a two-time world champion and threw Orujov twice during their tightly contested final, including a match-ending ippon throw that finished the fight with more than one minute left on the clock.