TOKYO (AP) - Best in the world again. Maybe best in gymnastics history.
Kohei Uchimura ran away with the all-around gold Friday night, becoming the first man to win three titles at the world gymnastics championships. He finished more than three points ahead of Germany's Philipp Boy, his largest margin of victory yet, and had the highest scores on four of the six events.
After his performance, it's hard to imagine anyone catching him at next summer's London Olympics.
"Three times in a row, this is history. Congratulations," Boy said, shaking his head in wonder. "I can't say anything more about it."
Uchimura finished with 93.631 points. Boy won the silver for a second straight year, and Koji Yamamuro, Uchimura's training partner, won the bronze medal. John Orozco was the top American, rallying to finish fifth after a series of form errors on his first three events. U.S. champ Danell Leyva was last, taking a 6.466 after a scary crash on high bar.
Uchimura had this title wrapped up at the halfway point, making high bar, his final routine, the start of his victory celebration. The crowd roared with each release move, and fans were on their feet even before his hit the landing mat. As Uchimura looked skyward and threw his arms in the air, the fans let out such a big roar it nearly lifted the roof of the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
"Of course I'm happy," Uchimura said through a translator. "I didn't mind the scores, I was only focused on my performance and doing the best performance I could do."
Uchimura has become something of a rock star in Japan, and he said before worlds began that he hoped his performances could be a boost for his country. It's been seven months since the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan, and the country still bears the physical and emotional scars. Like most gymnasts, Uchimura wore a patch on his uniform asking people to support the relief effort.
Japan came up short in the team competition, finishing with a silver after some uncharacteristic mistakes by Uchimura.
On this night, however, he was practically perfect.
"That's what everyone will talk about, but I don't think about that," Uchimura said when asked if he is the best ever.
Uchimura hasn't been beaten since the Beijing Olympics, where he won the silver medal, and no one's even come close. He's so far in front of the pack he was atop the standings after just two events, ahead of even the guys who'd gone on vault, which artificially inflates scores. By the time Uchimura got to vault, he led by almost six-tenths of a point.
If there was a mercy rule in gymnastics, it would have been invoked right there.
"It was almost like a show," said Orozco, who had a front-row seat for it, competing in the same rotation with Uchimura. "Incredible. Amazing. I can't even find the words to describe him."
What is perhaps most impressive about Uchimura 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 pure, brute 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 won one of his world titles despite taking such a big fall on high bar he almost rolled off the podium.
Uchimura, on the other hand, has gorgeous style to go with his difficult skills. If someone wants to learn how to do gymnastics, buy a Uchimura DVD to admire his precision.
His tumbling passes on floor had the kind of height usually reserved for skateboard parks, yet he landed each so securely not even a toe budged. Art classes looking for a model might want to consider his strength poses.
He's so smooth on pommel horse he's almost hypnotic, and his line and perfectly pointed toes would put ballet dancers to shame. On still rings, he opened by hanging upside down, batlike, for what seemed like a minute. Rings is perhaps the toughest event in men's gymnastics, upper body strength the only thing keeping a gymnast suspended 9 feet above the ground, and few can do the tough skills without making the cables shake just a little bit. Not Uchimura. He did three straight somersaults and then came to a dead stop, the cables perfectly still.
"At the moment, I think nobody can beat Kohei Uchimura," said Boy, who said last week that he thought he'd been born in the "wrong age." He's a very special gymnast. It looks beautiful and he makes no mistakes. He's really kind of a machine. It's amazing."