RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Max Whitlock ended Britain's 120-year wait for an Olympic gymnastics gold medal by upstaging two-time world champion Kenzo Shirai to win the men's floor exercise title on Sunday.
Whitlock produced a series of gravity-defying tumbles to win gold with a score of 15.633, while Brazilian Diego Hypolito burst into tears of joy as he claimed silver, delighting the partisan crowd and making up for his flops at the last two Games. There was more happiness for the home fans as Arthur Mariano picked up the bronze.
Less than two hours after earning Britain’s first gold, Whitlock was again on top in his specialist pommel horse event with a score of 15.966. It was his third medal in Rio as he also won a bronze in the all around competition.
Shirai had been the favourite to become the first Japanese gymnast to win the floor exercise since Sawao Kato in 1968, but his gold medal hopes looked shaky when he almost sat down following a triple twisting front somersault.
When he stumbled forward following his next tumbling pass, he was completely out of the running for a medal.
But given the difficulty of Shirai's routine, Whitlock was still unsure where the 19-year-old would end up in the pecking order and he sat with his head down, jiggling nervously with his feet as he waited for the scoreboard to flash up his rival's result.
The crowd's main concern was that no one would leapfrog sentimental favourite Hypolito or Mariano.
Chants of "Diego, Diego, Diego" were ringing around the arena when the final contender, Sam Mikulak of the United States, began his routine. Wild cheers erupted as he stumbled following his first tumbling run.
Hypolito and Mariano burst into tears, embraced and draped themselves in the Brazilian flag as a delighted Rio crowd roared its joy.
Hypolito, 30, who fell flat on his face during the London 2012 Games, redeemed himself on home ground by scoring 15.533. Compatriot Mariano, 22, who curled up on the floor, too nervous to watch the final results unfold, notched 15.433.
"It's very emotional, it's a delight to have seen them both give their all," said spectator Adriana Queiroz, 47, a marketing executive from Sao Paulo, who was wearing a Brazilian shirt.
That set off the celebrations for the Brazilian crowd and the tears freely flowed down Hypolito's face as he finally got on the Olympic podium following years of pain and disappointment.
All around champion Kohei Uchimura was fifth.