Reign of Japan’s ‘King Kohei’ Uchimura comes to an end

Final fling: Japan’s Kohei Uchimura falls from the horizontal bar during the men’s artistic gymnastics qualifying round. — AP

TOKYO: The reign of Japan’s “King Kohei” Uchimura, two-time Olympics all-around champion and holder of seven Olympic medals, came to an abrupt end when he failed to qualify for the finals and said he could no longer perform as he once did.

At his peak, Uchimura, 32, was one of the best male gymnasts of all time, winning every world and Olympic all-around title from 2009 to 2016 and becoming the first man in 44 years to top the individual all-around podium in back-to-back Olympics with a nail-biting final in Rio 2016.

But age and injury took their toll, and Uchimura, known for his focus on “beauty in motion” and steely resolve towards training, decided late in 2019 to concentrate only on the horizontal bar to have a chance at making the team for his fourth Olympics – one held at home.

On Saturday, the man once known as “Supermura” and “extraterrestrial” was going strong when he suddenly fell and crashed to the floor. He got up and restarted his routine, but the writing was on the wall and he was grim as he finished and left the floor, returning later to watch the rest of the team.

“I don’t want to look back on my performance because I failed,” he told reporters later.

“In the last three Olympics I took part in, I was always able to bring out in competition what I practised, but I can’t do that anymore,” he added.

“I’m past my peak, I just have to accept that calmly.”

He declined to say whether this was his final competition, saying he would have to “think about it”. The gymnastics world championships are set to be held in Japan, in the region where he was born, later this year.

Yesterday, the team – all of them Olympic novices – ended up in first place after two subdivisions had performed, edging ahead of powerhouses Russia and China.

“They’re just amazing. For their first Olympics, they’re almost too amazing for words,” Uchimura said.

“When I came back to the floor after my performance, they were getting together, discussing things and solving problems by themselves. I don’t think I’m needed by them anymore.” — Reuters

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