Nikita Nagornyy has been the best male in 2019, and on Friday evening he made it official.
He flipped, twisted and swung his way to his first World all-around title at the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
"Tired," the 22-year-old said after competition of how it felt to take gold. "I felt emotionally spent [after the team final] and so the all-around final was not as cheerful. Overall, though, I liked the crowd and how everything went."
Nagornyy's 88.772 earned the gold medal. Last year's champion Artur Dalaloyan of Russia was second, earning an 87.165. 2016 Olympic parallel bars champion and all-around silver medallist Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine clinched a surprising bronze with an 86.173 total.
One-two from Russia
Nagornyy and Dalaloyan are having career weeks in Stuttgart. In Wednesday's men's team final, the duo led their team to Russia's first World team gold medal.
"Unbelievably happy because this is what motivated me to go and train in the gym daily for the past year," Nagornyy said of that victory. "Not just me but the whole team. What can I say? We were going here for this medal and we got it and we are unbelievably happy."
Friday he was even more exuberant, saying the Russian domination in Stuttgart signals, "a new era," before adding, "Get used to it."
And there is plenty to be happy about. Coming into Stuttgart, many expected the three-time Youth Olympic Games champion to take the all-around crown. His European championships all-around final performance had been the best score of the season until Friday evening when he bettered it by .107.
"I didn't think about it at all. I don't have it in my head that I am a leader, no," said Nagornyy. "We came as a team and first of all we were going here to win the team gold medal."
Dalaloyan for his part shook off an error in the fourth rotation where he landed his handspring double pike front vault low, taking several steps backward. He earned just a 14.066, down more than a point from this qualifying score. But he came roaring back in the final two rotations earning scores of 15.233 and 14.233, on the parallel bars and high bar, respectively.
"That's the main goal of any all-around athlete, we have such a sport that you have to fight from start to finish," he said. "From the first to the last apparatus. It doesn’t matter if there are some minor or serious mistakes, you have to keep working, keeping your, so to say, dignity - from start to finish. That’s why it’s my main goal at any competition."
A return for Verniaiev
After triumph in Rio where Verniaiev came within a tenth of a point of unseating the legendary Kohei Uchimura of Japan in the all-around final, the 26-year-old has been plagued by injuries.
"Every January, I have a surgery," he said through a translator after his qualifying round earlier this week in Stuttgart. "I hope this time I will not have surgery in January so I can focus on preparing for the Olympics."
Adding in English that his health is, "From zero to ten, a 5 or 6. Better than last year."
Last year, he came to Doha very much in doubt to compete in the all-around, but he toughed it out. The result wasn't pretty at times as he was clearly in pain during his still rings and horizontal bar performances. He finished a disappointing 14th place.
"Such thoughts appear every time you come back to the gym from injury and things do not go well," Verianiev said Friday about whether he doubted a return to the all-around podium would ever be possible. "To really come back, you need to overcome yourself."
2017 World all-around champion and 2018 silver medallist Xiao Ruoteng of China was in position to challenge Nagornyy for the podium's top step but in the final rotation, he caught a release move on the high bar too close and had to hop off the bar. He finished in fourth place with an 86.690 total.
American Sam Mikulak was the leader after three events but came off the pommel horse in the penultimate rotation and finished in seventh.