ANTWERP, Belgium – Less than a week ago, Hashimoto Daiki, Illia Kovtun, and Fred Richard struggled in qualifying at the 2023 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
On Thursday night, they stood atop the men’s all-around podium together.
The gymnastics world was shocked when Japan’s Hashimoto – the now-back-to-back reigning world champion (and Olympic champion, mind you) – qualified third behind two of his teammates, Chiba Kenta and Kaya Kazuma, and effectively was two-per-countried out of the final.
But Gymnastics Japan released a statement shortly after their qualifying meet, saying the team had agreed to let Hashimoto have the country’s second all-around spot if he finished third among the team’s three all-arounders, with Kaya bowing out.
Hashimoto ultimately ended up surpassing even top-qualifier Chiba’s qualifying all-around total (85.799) on his way to his second-straight world all-around gold, earning an 86.132.
The win marks the first time a man has gone back-to-back in the world all-around since Hashimoto’s fellow countryman, and now coach, Uchimura Kohei did so. (Uchimura won eight-straight world and Olympic all-around titles from 2009 to 2016.)
“What the legend Uchimura has done in his career is something that I have to keep striving for, but it’s not something I focus on,” Hashimoto said after the meet. “I have to concentrate more on what I can do in my performance to improve as a gymnast.”
Kovtun improved on his all-around bronze from Kitakyushu in 2021, winning silver with an 84.998. It’s the third time in four worlds that a Ukrainian man has stood on the all-around podium, with Kovtun’s current teammate Oleg Verniaiev having won bronze in 2019.
“I’m very inspired,” Kovtun said. “I did my best and tried hard ever since the championships in 2021. I have had surgery, and I came second, so I am very happy. I did my best thanks to my coach.”
Richard’s bronze for the U.S. was somewhat unexpected – not because of his ability, but because of the circumstances.
While Hashimoto and Kovtun didn’t have any falls, Richard fell for the second time in three high bar routines in Antwerp, and on the same skill – the Kolman, making it seem as though any hope for a medal was lost. Before the fall, the 19-year-old was primed for silver.
“My coach always says finish strong,” Richard said of his thought process after the fall. “We came here to have fun, so I just hopped up on the bar and said, ‘Let’s just have fun for the rest of it. And the universe has a weird way of working it out to give me this medal.”
In the end, the bronze was meant to be after China’s Sun Wei fell on pommel horse (twice) and Chiba fell on high bar, solidifying the podium as it stood.
Richard’s bronze came just two nights after the U.S. men won their first world team medal, also bronze, since 2014.
Frederick Flips’ medal is arguably even more historic. He’s the…
- First U.S. man to win a world all-around medal since Jonathan Horton in 2010…
- First man of color from the U.S. to win a world medal in the men’s all-around…
- Youngest U.S. man to win an individual world medal.
The men’s all-around podium is young; Hashimoto is 22, Kovtun is 20, and Richard is 19. With men’s gymnasts often competing into their late 20s and early 30s, it’s a fair assumption that the medalists will be seeing a lot of each other in years to come.
“I’ve watched these guys for the last two, three years, and they’re come up in the international level. Now, I get to stand there right next to them, which is pretty cool,” Richard said. “Now, they’re my competitors of course; I’m excited to come back in the future [for] competitions and push for that gold.”
As it happened
Rotation 1: Fred Richard (USA) led off the leader group on floor with a huge set, showing why he also qualified to the event final and going 14.633.
Also in the leader group, fourth-place qualifier Jake Jarman (GBR) hit a hoppy but clean set for a 14.500. Defending world champion Hashimoto Daiki (JPN) almost fell on his triple twist dismount, earning a low 13.400. His teammate Chiba Kenta went 13.966.
Elsewhere, Asher Hong (USA) fell late in his pommel horse set, earning a 12.333. Sun Wei (CHN) had an excellent routine on still rings, capped off by a tucked double-double and earning a 14.266. Ahmet Onder (TUR) stuck his Kas 1.5 to earn a 14.533.
Rotation 2: In the leader group, James Hall (GBR) rebounded from a fall in the team final to hit pommel horse (13.300). Hashimoto displayed smooth flair spindle work and was excellent throughout to earn a 14.366, but Chiba, his teammate and the top qualifier, went 14.800 to take the lead after two rotations. Richard closed out the rotation, starting with an error when he stepped forward with his hand onto the leather during his opening scissor handstand (13.733).
Elsewhere, Hong earned a 13.833 on rings. Sun was severely under-rotated on his Kas double, lunging forward on the landing to avoid falling but still earning a 14.166 thanks to the extremely difficult vault. Luka van den Keybus (BEL) executed a beautiful Yurchenko 2.5 with a small hop to the roar of the Belgian crowd.
Rotation. 3: Hong’s Ri Se Gwang on vault was night and day from the team final, when he earned a 15.100 and took only a step. This one was an ankle-cruncher, and he took multiple steps forward, earning a 13.866
Sun earned a 14.400 on parallel bars, dismounting with a stuck double front half. Illia Kovtun (UKR) followed with a massive 15.166 thanks in large part to a 6.7 difficulty score.
On rings, Chiba took a hit to his execution score, earning a low 13.733. Hashimoto fared better with a 14.000. Richard was low in some of his holds and went 13.500.
At the halfway point, Sun was leading, followed by Kovtun and Chiba, with 0.333 separating the three. Of course, the leader group still had high-scoring vault and parallel bars to go.
Rotation 4: With the leader group heading to vault and the other two contenders – Sun and Kovtun – on high bar, the fourth rotation was the first true glimpse at how the podium was shaping up.
Hashimoto stuck his Kas double cold to go 15.000. Chiba followed with an under-rotated Kas 1.5 that he had to take a large step backward on and went over the line (13.666). Richard stuck his own Kas 1.5 to a big applause, earning a 14.566. Sticks were contagious this rotation, because Jarman stuck the most difficult vault of the rotation – a Kas 2.5 (3.5 twists) – for a 15.433.
Sun and Kovtun both hit high bar, upping their podium stock significantly. Sun went 14.233, and Kovtun improved his 11.800 from qualifying to earn a 14.066.
Having an up and down day, Hong rebounded from vault with a hit on parallel bars for a 14.466.
After four, Sun was still in the lead, with Hashimoto second and Kovtun in third. Richard and Jarman were knocking on the door in fourth and fifth, respectively, after sticking their vaults. Chiba sat in sixth. In all, only nine-tenths separated the top six, and 0.367 separated the top three.
Rotation 5: Sun opened things up on floor with a hit routine, albeit some minor landing issues on almost every pass, earning a 13.333 (he went 14.033 in the team final). Kovtun was powerful and very tidy on his landings, including on a stuck Randi, to earn a 14.000.
He wasn’t in contention, but Hungary’s Krisztofer Meszaros literally floated through his set that included a stuck two-and-a-half to punch double front and sky-high tucked double-double to earn a 14.266.
In the leader group on parallel bars, Chiba and Richard started with stellar routines, going 14.666 and 14.600, respectively. Hashimoto anchored with a huge 6.1-difficulty routine featuring a stuck double front half dismount to earn a 14.800 and jump into the lead.
Heading into the final rotation, Hashimoto led by six-tenths ahead of Richard and then Chiba, another two-tenths back, with all heading to high bar. Kovtun and Sun were fourth and fifth, respectively, heading to pommel horse.
Rotation 6: With the leader group on high bar and strong horse workers in Kovtun and Sun on horse, anything could happen, but a hit from Hashimoto on high bar would almost guarantee the gold.
Kovtun hit his horse set to earn a 14.300 and finishing with an 84.998.
Richard was the first up of the contenders in the leader group and fell on his typically world-class high bar set to earn a 13.300 and finish with an 84.332. Hashimoto swung beautifully to earn a 14.500 and jumped into first.
The last two contenders up – Sun and Chiba – would decide the podium. Sun fell twice on horse, and Chiba fell on high bar in the final routine of the night, solidifying the Hashimoto-Kovtun-Richard podium.