Louis Smith won World Gymnastics pommel horse bronze in Tokyo despite losing control at the end of the most difficult routine he could produce.
Huntingdon's Smith had to settle for a score of 15.066 as Hungarian rival Krisztian Berki took gold with 15.866 ahead of France's Cyril Tommasone.
"It was shaky at the end but to come away with bronze means the hard work's paid off," Smith told BBC Sport.
"I had to do that routine in a pressure situation and it kind of went my way."
Smith's courageous if ultimately flawed performance caps a tumultuous week for Britain's male gymnasts and continues his own rollercoaster ride at international level.
The 22-year-old became Britain's first individual Olympic gymnastics medallist in a century with bronze on the pommel horse, his specialist and only event, at the Beijing 2008 Games.
Since then, his quest to increase the difficulty of an already phenomenally complex routine has led to as many humbling falls as successes.
Smith fell in London at the 2009 Worlds and again at the 2011 European Championships, but took world silver behind Berki in 2010.
Here, having completed almost the entire routine without a flicker of an error, Smith struggled in the build-up to his dismount and his finish disintegrated.
Bronze marks a regression on paper but Smith believes that overlooks what he was trying to achieve in Tokyo.
"I didn't set out to win gold," he said. "I wanted to prove I could do the routine and use this as a stepping-stone for 2012.
"That was a confidence boost like no other. It's the hardest routine in the world and I've gone out, trained it for weeks, and done it.
"It wasn't perfect but I've got a while yet till the Olympics, and the Olympic test event and European Championships next year.
"I've competed it in a competition environment - in a pressure situation - and that makes me feel a lot better about it."
Smith did, however, concede he may have pushed himself too hard in preparation for the final.
"I haven't a clue what happened at the end," he said. "I'd done the hardest part so I might have relaxed a bit, or maybe I was puffed out.
"Maybe I'd done too much in the warm-up, but it's a learning curve. If I did warm up too much I'll know not to do as much next time. I feel really, really relieved."
Paul Hall, who coaches Smith and team-mate Dan Keatings among others in Huntingdon, said: "He got through all the difficult stuff and I thought he was home and dry.
"He just had to the dismount, that he's done a million times, and he had a hiccup.
"But he was adamant he wanted to do that routine and feel the pressure, and I think he made the right decision."
The pressure told on others as the final progressed. Japan's Kohei Uchimura, who broke records with his third consecutive all-around title the night before, fell along with Australia's Prashanth Sellathurai, helping Smith hang on to bronze.
A medal here does not qualify Smith automatically for next year's Olympics. He and the British men's team must earn qualification at the Olympic test event, inside London's O2 Arena in January, having failed to secure automatic team entry for the Games in world qualifying here.
By contrast, Britain's women did enough earlier this week and have qualified a full team of five gymnasts for next year's Games.
The biggest disappointment of the women's qualifying session was Beth Tweddle's failure to reach the uneven bars final, a title she won in 2010.
But Tweddle did reach the floor final, and will attempt to regain the floor world title - which she won in 2009 - on Sunday.
Russian 16-year-old Victoria Komova won the bars title in Tweddle's absence on Saturday, scoring a 15.500 that Tweddle would have expected to challenge.
China's Chen Yibing won rings gold, Uchimura added gold on the floor to his collection, and American 15-year-old McKayla Maroney defeated Germany's Oksana Chusovitina - more than twice Maroney's age, at 36 - for gold in the women's vault competition.