Liam Morgan

It’s taken its sweet time, but gymnastics has finally announced itself on the global stage.

The fact that the sport sits proudly in the top-tier of the Olympic Games, alongside athletics and swimming, those behemoths which largely dominate the sporting spectrum, may have been lost on many of those who witnessed the stunning Artistic Gymnastics World Championships here over an action-packed last 10 days.

Gymnastics has had a turbulent past, fighting a constant battle to continually improve its global image and perception among many who simply don’t give it the time of day.

This, coupled with well-documented issues with scoring and judging, has served only to dent its global reputation, and while one World Championships can’t fix years of troubles and difficulties, it can certainly provide a substantial platform on which to build for the future.

The event here has had everything. Laced with an undercurrent of tension and drama, the competition itself has provided memorable moments aplenty, with history rewritten virtually every single day, largely by two outstanding gymnasts whose displays were a pleasure to watch.

You end up running out of superlatives for the likes of American Simone Biles, who claimed her record third straight all-around title, and Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, idolised in his homeland and considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time after he clinched a record-breaking sixth consecutive crown in the men’s equivalent.

These are two competitors truly at the pinnacle of their sport. Often criticism is levelled at sportsmen and women for producing consistently at a lower level before falling short when it matters most, but this was simply never going to be the case for either Biles or Uchimura.

From the moment they both stepped out onto the floor or began their run up towards the vault apparatus, a sense of inevitability would envelope the Arena. They were going to win, it was purely a case of how much by.

This was evident throughout Biles’ performances during the competition as she leapt, soared and dazzled her way to gold medal after gold medal.

While her all-around display was far from perfect, including an uncharacteristic mistake on the floor, perhaps her most favoured discipline, as well as a near-fall on the balance beam that left her clinging to the apparatus for dear life, it was still more than enough to take the title. The rest, quite simply, are not on her level.

Image title
American Simone Biles produced a series of stunning displays to finish with a total of four gold medals ©Getty Images

It is even more staggering to think she is just 18 years of age. Gymnastics careers are often short - after all there’s always someone younger to take your place - but if she were to retire tomorrow, she could do so a happy woman.

Her dominance of the sport she holds so dearly may be seen from the outside as detrimental. After all, when someone keeps on winning and winning so spectacularly, the familiar feeling can often become tiresome.

There’s no real sense of that with the Ohio-born supremo, however, as she goes about her business always with a smile and always with an endearing sense of humility. There is no-one more deserving of a place in the record books than her.

The same goes for Uchimura, gymnastics’ equivalent of Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt, who, despite winning a remarkable six consecutive world titles, still refuses to call himself the greatest ever.

Little does he know it but he provided one of the most dramatic sporting moments I have ever witnessed in person during the men’s team final, in which his nation claimed gold after a desperately-long 37-year wait.

Needing a score of 13.933 to seal gold for his country  the 26-year-old strode confidently towards the bar, his gaze entirely focused on the job at hand despite the crowd decibel level being dramatically elevated due to Britain’s Max Whitlock completing a clean floor routine on the adjacent apparatus.

Perhaps this caused what followed, we may never know, but early on, Uchimura lost his grip on the bar and crashed to the canvas. Cue stunned and shocked gasps from an audience which was potentially responsible for the mistake.

But he picked himself up, completed his routine and won gold for his country - and with it his first team title - in the most dramatic of finishes, with one gymnastics journalist, who has been covering the sport since before I was born, whispering to me that the team final was one of the greatest he had ever seen.

Kohei Uchimura lit up the World Championships in Glasgow by sealing a record sixth straight all-around title
Kohei Uchimura lit up the World Championships in Glasgow by sealing a record sixth straight all-around title ©Getty Images

Biles and Uchimura weren’t the only ones to make history as the hosts enjoyed their most fruitful championships yet, sealing a haul of five medals, which included first-ever podium finishes in both team events and their maiden men’s individual title, won in some style by Whitlock on the pommel horse.

That particular final was the highlight for many of the home fans as Whitlock, who has endured a tough season away from the sport after contracting glandular fever earlier this year, pipped teammate Louis Smith to the title with a stunning score of 16.133, the highest on the apparatus at a World Championships or Olympic Games since 2009.

But it wasn’t just the incredible performances of the gymnasts which made the event stand out from the crowd.

From a spectator point of view, it must have been a superb spectacle to watch. The event here adopted the increasingly-popular “sportainment” mantra, with the entrance of every competitor greeted with pumping music and accompanied by flames and smoke machines.

Following medal ceremonies, The Proclaimers' hit song I'm Gonna Be (500 miles) would blast round the Arena, with the lyrics to the famous tune appearing on the screen so the fans could sing along.

And boy did the crowd love it. Aside from a slightly-disappointing turnout for the men’s team final - not a surprise as women’s events often sell better than their male counterparts - gymnastics’ return to the SSE Hydro, which played host to the sport at last year’s Commonwealth Games, was greeted by an abundance of fans all keen to catch a glimpse of their heroes.

While the event will go down as a huge success, it also left the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) with plenty of food for thought.

Yes, the World Championships got coverage. But, taking the British press as a general example, was it anywhere near the level of a similar category athletics or swimming competition? Was the worldwide visibility of the event enough?

Though Bruno Grandi, the FIG President who will bring his tenure at the helm of the world governing body to a close next year after two whole decades in charge, has overseen several key changes - including abolishing the “perfect 10” score and seeing his sport elevated into the International Olympic Committee’s top-tier, which should bring about an increase in funding after Rio 2016 - he has not always been everyone’s favourite.

Image title
Max Whitlock became Britain's first-ever men's world champion by edging compatriot Louis Smith in the pommel horse final ©Getty Images

The 81-year-old Italian has devoted his life to the sport, making it his mission to ultimately improve it, yet there are those who are still calling for widespread change, the most vociferous of such dissenting voices coming from European Union of Gymnastics President Georges Guelzec, who is bidding to replace Grandi as head of the FIG.

He has continued to bang the drum of saying the sport needs to attract more sponsors, more coverage and that it should look to increase its visibility, and Glasgow 2015 has surely provided the first step.

If everything was perfect, such voices would merely be quashed and buried, but the fact that the outspoken Frenchman is not alone suggests the problems are perhaps more deep-rooted than we know.

Yet some of these are obvious even to the untrained eye. Thankfully, the FIG have addressed the ridiculous qualification process in place for Rio 2016 - it will be altered for the better for the Games in Tokyo - where gymnasts who won all-around medals weren’t guaranteed an Olympic berth, yet those who topped the podium in the respective individual apparatus finals were.

This caused severe confusion among the gymnasts themselves, with women’s all-around silver medallist Larisa Iordache of Romania believing in her post competition press conference that she was going to Rio. I’m led to believe she was told swiftly after that wasn’t the case.

It also left Manrique Larduet, who had made history of his own by finishing second to Uchimura in the men’s event to seal his country’s first-ever all-around World Championships medal, needing to earn a top-three finish from his two apparatus finals to book his ticket to the Brazilian city. Thankfully, he was able to do just that, winning bronze on the high bar, meaning next year’s Olympics will be graced by the entertaining Cuban’s presence. He is certainly one to look out for.

The Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Glasgow have been heralded as the best ever
The Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Glasgow have been heralded as the best ever ©Getty Images

The judging was “better” than at previous editions of the event, Grandi said this morning, yet it still caused a ridiculous scenario of four world champions being crowned in a single discipline, where Russians Daria Spiridonova and Viktoria Komova, Madison Kocian of the United States and China’s Fan Yilin all took home gold on the high bar with identical scores of 15.366 - a number I will never forget - as no tie-breaking rule was in place.

Only time will be able to indicate the direction in which the sport is going, with next October’s FIG Congress in Tokyo, where the ninth President in the governing body’s 134-year history will be elected and where the first clues of the future of gymnastics will be revealed, providing the first marker.

But while the struggles in the background may continue, they will probably seem a distant memory to many following the event’s conclusion here today, which was likely met with sadness rather than the usual relief.

Even those who may have walked 500 miles to witness the 2015 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships will say it was worth it.