Kohei Uchimura, Japanese gymnastics legend, qualifies for one last Olympics
Kohei Uchimura, widely regarded as the greatest male gymnast in history, is going to a fourth and final Olympics, this time to focus on one event.
Uchimura, who won all eight Olympic and world all-around titles from 2009-16 and earned the nickname “King Kohei,” made Japan’s Olympic team in individual events only at a domestic competition on Sunday.
He qualified via tiebreaker. Uchimura, competing on high bar, and another gymnast, Hidenobu Yonekura, who was on vault, tied on qualifying points, but Uchimura got in via higher world ranking, according to Tokyo 2020.
“I thought I failed to qualify but then was told I’m going. I don’t think I deserve it,” Uchimura said, according to a Tokyo 2020 translation. “I apologized to Yonekura afterwards.”
Uchimura will not compete in the team event at an Olympics for the first time in his career.
He is eligible to go for the individual all-around, but he has said his focus is on high bar after fighting injuries throughout this Olympic cycle and missing the world championships in 2019 for the first time since 2007.
At 32, Uchimura will be the oldest Japanese Olympic gymnast since the other time the Games were held in Tokyo in 1964, according to Olympedia.org.
“I don’t feel that after today’s performance, I really deserve to be called ‘King,’” Uchimura said Sunday, according to a Reuters translation.
Russians Nikita Nagornyy and Artur Dalaloyan won the last two world all-around titles.
The Japanese roster for the Olympic men’s team event -- one of the most coveted gold medals for the host nation -- is Daiki Hashimoto, Kazuma Kaya, Wataru Tanigawa and Takeru Kitazono, all Olympic rookies.
Japan took team bronze at the last two world championships behind Russia and China.
“It was really hard for me, as such an old man, to perform after the new generation,” Uchimura said, referring to his younger countrymen, according to Reuters. “I may not be part of the all-around team effort, but there’s still things I can contribute due to my experience.”
Kenzo Shirai, the second star of Japan’s Rio Olympic champion team, did not make the roster for Tokyo. Shirai, 24, owns world titles on floor exercise and vault and was the last Japanese man to earn a world championships all-around medal, bronze in 2017. He has been hampered by back and ankle injuries, according to Japanese media.
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