There was also unfettered jubilation for the host nation, where Diego Hypolito and Arthur Mariano joined Whitlock on the podium of the floor event, taking silver and bronze respectively. For Hypolito who burst into tears of joy, it was an especially emotional moment, after his hopes were dashed by a fall at the previous two editions of the Games.
Whitlock produced a series of gravity-defying tumbles to win the title with a total score of 15.633. Shirai had been the favourite to become the first Japanese gymnast to win the floor exercise since Sawao Kato back in 1968, but two notable errors effectively ended his hopes of a medal.
Meanwhile there was impassioned support for Brazilian pair Hypolito and Mariano. Chants of "Diego, Diego, Diego" ringing out around the arena. And when he was finally confirmed in silver medal position in the final standings, Hypolito burst into tears. Kohei Uchimura, who had earlier mounted a successful defence of his men’s all-around crown, finished fifth.
Hypolito, 30, who fell flat on his face during the London 2012 Games, savoured his 15.533 score as long-awaited redemption. “I fell in two Olympic Games. They were very difficult for me. I was able to overcome that and this is a great result for me. I believed in myself and my coach believed in me, when nobody believed in me," he told reporters.
Compatriot Mariano, 22, who curled up on the floor, too nervous to watch the final results unfold, notched 15.433. “It was unthinkable to have two Brazilians on the podium but finally our day came," he beamed after his performance.
History man Whitlock at the double
Max Whitlock completed the greatest day in the history of British gymnastics when he swivelled to the top of the podium with a smooth and silky pommel horse performance to earn his second gold.
Less than two hours after he had ended Great Britain's 120-year wait for an Olympic gymnastics title, the 23-year-old did it again, posting a score of 15.966 in his favourite event.
Louis Smith completed a glorious one-two for Great Britain, repeating his feat of London 2012 by taking the silver. For a while, it looked as if his score of 15.833 would be enough for gold, and he spent much of the next 15 minutes kneeling on the floor, unable to look at the scoreboard as he waited to see if anyone would leapfrog him. In the end it was his team-mate who did. Completing the podium was the USA’s Alex Naddour, who took the bronze.
“It's just an incredible feeling,” said Whitlock on winning two gold medals. “All the gymnasts out there know how much work goes into it. You get one minute to show what you've been working on for the last however many years.
And he revealed that he didn’t have any time to take in the historic nature of his first gold, given he was almost immediately called into action in the pommel horse final: I had my job to do on pommel horse. I had to get back to the training gym and refocus,” he explained. “It was tough, especially as I didn't watch any of the floor routines that were before or after me. When my coach said what I’d done, it hit me literally like a ton of bricks.”