Issued on: 07/13/2021 – 3:50 amChanged: 07/13/2021 – 3:49 AM
He’s the Japanese gymnastics superstar with a sweet tooth on his way to his fourth Olympics, but this summer promises to be a different experience for “King” Kohei Uchimura.
The 32-year-old inscribed his name in Olympic history at the 2016 Rio Games and is the first male gymnast in 44 years to retain his all-round title.
He also led Japan to team gold in Brazil and cemented its place as one of the most revered athletes in his country.
His chocolate-loving, Pokemon Go-playing personality has also made him a favorite with Japanese fans, showing a different side to the man who is considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time.
But persistent shoulder pain has forced Uchimura to adjust his view of the home turf at the Tokyo Olympics, which will certainly be his last.
The gymnast, who started playing at the age of three, will forego defending his all-around title and only compete on the horizontal bar.
However, his desire to win even more Olympic gold remains unbroken and his rivals can expect nothing less than laser focus.
“If I had shown a perfect performance here, it would have been hard to beat at the Olympics,” he said after qualifying for the Games at the All Japan Apparatus Championships in June.
“Better to have made some mistakes to make yourself more determined to train for the Olympics.”
Uchimura began the sport as a toddler in his native Nagasaki at the encouragement of his parents – both former gymnasts.
His iron determination and superhuman concentration soon brought him international success and in 2009 he won the first of his 10 World Cup golds.
But he’s also relaxed off the mat, making headlines at the start of the Rio Games after hitting a 500,000 yen ($ 4,500) phone bill with Pokemon Go when he arrived in Brazil.
– ‘Valley floor’ –
His aversion to vegetables and his fondness for “Black Thunder” chocolate are also known, but when it comes to competition, he is in full swing.
“I just want to do something I’m happy with,” he said in June.
“After that, it’s up to the audience to decide what to think.”
Uchimura has struggled with injuries since the Rio Games and called his chance to perform in Tokyo in 2019 “a fairy tale”.
But after taking radical measures and dropping all events but the horizontal bar, he is now ready to make his dreams come true.
“If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said of his injury problems.
“I think people can come back stronger when they hit rock bottom.”
However, Japan will have to do without him to defend their team title in Tokyo.
Uchimura recently described himself as “an old fossil” compared to newbies like 18-year-old Takeru Kitazono – winner of five gold medals at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
But the veteran is now ready to act as the new generation’s big brother.
“I’m not attending the team event, but I feel like I need to use my experience in different ways,” said Uchimura.
“I think I can play a role beyond the actual competition.”
After his final Olympics, Uchimura is likely to stay in Japan for one final World Cup this October.
He has described himself as “the kind of person who doesn’t care about the past”.
But he took a moment to pause for thought after booking his place in Tokyo.
“It’s something I can’t believe myself,” he said.
“It’s amazing when you look at it objectively.”
© 2021 AFP