TOKYO: Britain's Max Whitlock competes in the artistic gymnastics men's pommel horse final of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo yesterday. - AFP

TOKYO: Max Whitlock defended his pommel horse title and Rebeca Andrade succeeded Simone Biles as vault champion on a night of gymnastic firsts at the Olympics yesterday. Ukraine-born Artem Dolgopyat assured his place in his adopted country's history by winning the floor exercise to claim the Zionist entity's first ever gymnastics medal. And then Nina Derwael hopped up onto the uneven bars to end Belgium's wait for gymnastics hardware, the world champion taking gold with American all-around champion Sunisa Lee in bronze.

Not to be outdone Andrade, who took silver behind Lee in the all-around, was Brazil's first female gymnastics champion. While Dolgopyat, Derwael and Andrade were all breaking new ground, for Whitlock it was a glorious case of history repeating itself. The Rio 2016 champion had qualified in only fifth place behind Taiwan's Lee Chih Kai, but turned the tables in style with a technically difficult and finely executed routine earning a significant score of 15.583, .183 clear of Lee. Japan's Kazuma Kaya took the bronze.

'Million times harder'

Whitlock, who also won floor gold at the Rio 2016 Games and horse bronze at London 2012, said: "This was the most nervous I have ever been for any competition I have ever done in my entire life. "I always said it: retaining titles is 10 times harder than chasing it. Today proved that to me. It's a million times harder. It's the feeling of knowing you have done it before and that feeling of winning Olympic gold is crazy. You kind of want to experience that again, but you know how hard it is to do that."

He added: "I am sorry if I'm talking rubbish, but I don't even know how to feel, what to feel or what to say. It's crazy." There was heartache for Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland who arrived with hopes of earning his country's first ever gymnastics medal only to fall off the apparatus seconds into his performance.

Earlier on the floor, Dolgopyat had finished level on points with Spain's Rayderley Zapata but won the tiebreak with a higher difficulty score. China's Xiao Ruoteng took the bronze. Dolgopyat, who moved from Ukraine to Tel Aviv when he was 12, won only Zionist entity's second ever Olympic title in any sport after Gal Fridman's 2004 windsurfing win in Athens. The 24-year-old came into the final as favorite by topping the qualifying standings.

After Russian team gold winner Nikita Nagornyy was marked down after over-rotating and stumbling on his trademark triple pike tumble, Zapata looked destined for the title. But Dolgopyat turned the Spaniard's gold into silver when his routine matched Zapata's score of 14.933, and with their execution mark also the same, it went down to the difficulty level, with Dolgopyat taking the title by just 0.100.

Andrade meanwhile had come through injury hell to climb the podium in Tokyo, overcoming three visits to the operating table for right knee anterior cruciate ligament surgery to fulfill her Olympic dream. "I couldn't imagine myself up there on the podium. I think I matured a lot. I got better from the injuries," she said.

She opened with a Cheng followed by an Amanar to deny Mykayla Skinner, who took Biles's place in the final after the American superstar pulled out with "the twisties", a condition where gymnasts lose the ability to orientate themselves in mid-air. Biles was in the stands watching the gymnastics competition go on without her having pulled out of the team and all-around, vault, uneven bars and floor. - AFP