BEIJING Yang Wei clapped as he walked past the vault judges, pumped his fists at the crowd and flashed a thumbs-up for the cameras. He even exchanged high-fives with the competition.
Denied in Sydney and disappointed in Athens, he is finally an Olympic champion after winning the men's all-around Thursday. It wasn't close, either. Yang finished with 94.575 points, nearly three points ahead of Japan's Kohei Uchimura. Benoit Caranobe of France won the bronze.
With each day bringing another gold medal, gymnastics is fast becoming China's domain at the Beijing Olympics. And no one is a bigger star than Yang.
After eight years of waiting, he's certainly earned it.
"Today was perfect," he said. "I felt tired before the competition, but after it I feel relaxed."
He didn't even bother waiting for his marks on high bar, his final event, before taking a curtain call, leaping onto the podium and thrusting his fists in the air while the crowd went crazy. His coach gave him a Chinese flag, and he held it out with pride. Judges took what seemed like forever to post his marks, but that only gave Yang more time to soak it all in.
"I thought a month ago if I would get this medal, I would be every emotional," Yang said. "But I'm really not because we won the team gold medal."
As the adoring crowd chanted "Yang Wei! Yang Wei" he pounded his chest with his fist. When his final mark finally did go up, the crowd went wild and Yang wanted more, cupping his hands to his ears and asking for them to pump up the volume. They did, of course, cheering lustily for the two-time world champion, who just might join Yao Ming and Liu Xiang as China's biggest names in these games.
The only difference? Yang's already got two gold medals. The other two are still waiting.
There could be more to come for Yang, who qualified for the pommel horse and still rings event finals.
"Yang was very uneasy going into his third Olympics," said Chen Yibing, Yang's teammate on the China squad that won the team gold two days ago. "But he handled it like a champion and I respect him very much."
The Americans couldn't add to their bronze medal from the team competition. Jonathan Horton finished ninth and Sasha Artemev was 12th.
Yang appeared moved during the medals ceremony, looking down often at the piece of gold he cradled in his hands, but he hammed it up afterward. With the medal now in his hands, he held it up to one group of Chinese fans and pretended he was going to throw it at them.
He didn't, of course, laughing and walking over to show it off to another cheering crowd.
Yang was dismissively referred to as "the silver collector" after he finished second to Alexei Nemov at the Sydney Olympics and second to American Paul Hamm at the 2003 world championships. The gold was his for the taking in Athens when Hamm fell midway through the meet, but Yang couldn't close the deal. He fell on high bar, and dropped all the way to seventh.
No one has been better the last two years. Not even close. In fact, he was so far in front at last year's world championships that he almost tumbled off the podium on high bar, and still won by more than a point.
There was no such drama Thursday.
Yang performs such difficult maneuvers on every event that this isn't a fair fight. On pommel horse, he works his way around in a perfectly controlled rhythm, no movements wasted, no exertion showing on his face. On still rings, he moved from strength pose to another as if to say, "Oh, you like that? Well how about this one?"
On parallel bars, he flipped from one handstand right into another and came to a dead stop, his body as straight as an arrow.
He wasn't perfect. He slipped on a landing on floor, both feet sliding out of bounds. And he took small steps on his landings on both vault and still rings.
But he had built such a commanding lead after five events that he could have fallen off the high bar, his weakest event, and still come away with the gold. He didn't fall, but the routine was somewhat anti-climatic. He wobbled after getting off-balance on a pirouette, and banged into the bar as he came down to catch it after a release move.
It hardly mattered, though. He is the best gymnast of the day, and he has the gold medal to prove it.
There is one person who might have given Yang a fight, but Hamm was watching back home in Columbus, Ohio.
After taking 2 1/2 years following a gold-medal win in Athens, Hamm looked better than ever earlier this year. He doesn't pack the difficulty in his routines that Yang does, but Yang can't couch Hamm's precision and polish. It was going to be a spectacular matchup until Hamm broke his hand May 22 at the national championships.
He sped through his recovery to get to Beijing, but announced July 28 that the hand and a strained shoulder would keep him from competing.
That removed Yang's only real obstacle to gold.
There were other contenders, but they never really made it a fight. Hiroyuki Tomita, the only other man to win the world title since Athens, peeled off still rings on his dismount and finished fourth. Fabian Hambuechen, the silver medalist at world's last year, fell from high bar, his signature event, and wound up seventh.
Yang Tae-young, who caused such a stir at the Athens Games when he won a bronze medal that he thought should have been gold, dropped to eighth after a dismal pommel horse routine.