ANTWERP, Belgium — Japan's Kohei Uchimura produced his traditional show of elegance and power to sweep past early leader Sam Mikulak, the U.S. champion, to top the standings in the all-around qualifying after three of the four sessions at the Gymnastic World Championships.
Boosted by high points in the high bar and floor exercise, Uchimura finished with 91.924 points, compared to 89.532 for Mikulak, a big margin. Lin Chaopan of China was in third place with 89.430.
All three are as good as assured a place in Thursday's final with 24 going through, and Uchimura and Mikulak will almost certainly be in the top-six group battling it out alongside each other for medals. Gymnasts start from scratch again for the final.
The 20-year-old Mikulak got off to a strong start in his first world championships on the parallel bars and the high bar. He is excited to be competing alongside Uchimura.
"I will always look up to him, winning worlds three years in a row, and Olympic Games," Mikulak said. "I mean, no other gymnast has done that. He is definitely my hero, but he is also something that I am thriving to reach."
The fact that the greatest hope in men's gymnastics for the United States should look up to someone only four years his senior shows just what Uchimura already has achieved in the sport.
Although Uchimura holds the men's record for all-around world titles, he still shares it with retired women's gymnast Svetlana Khorkina of Russia. Breaking through for a fourth all-around gold would give even more credence to all the talk that he is the greatest ever.
And Mikaluk wants to be right there when it happens, even though he acknowledges his chances of preventing Uchimura from getting gold are slim.
"I just want to see how close to him I can get," Mikulak said. "He has a lot higher start values than me. So if he goes out and hits it, I am not going to be hurt if I don't win."