The reign of Japan’s “King Kohei” Uchimura, two-time Olympic all-around winner and holder of seven Olympic medals, ended abruptly on Saturday when he failed to qualify for the final and said he could no longer do so as he once did.
At its peak was Uchimura, 32, one of the best male gymnasts of all time, won every world and Olympic all-around title from 2009 to 2016 and was the first man in 44 years to lead the individual all-around podium in his back -to -back Olympics with a nerve-wracking finale in Rio 2016.
But age and injury took their toll, and Uchimura, known for his focus on “Beauty in Motion” and his iron will to train, decided in late 2019 to focus only on the horizontal bar in order to have a chance to win the team for his fourth Olympics to win – one held at home.
On Saturday, the man who was once known as “Supermura” and “Alien” was strong when he suddenly fell and fell to the ground. He got up and resumed his routine, but the writing was on the wall and he was grim when he finished and left the floor to watch the rest of the team later.
“I don’t want to look back on my performance because I failed,” he later told reporters.
“At the last three Olympic Games I have participated in, I have always been able to prove what I have trained in competition, but I can no longer do that.
“I’ve passed my climax, I just have to calmly accept that.”
He declined to say if this would be his last competition and said he had to “think about it”. The gymnastics world championships are to be held this year in Japan, in the region where he was born.
Born into a family of competitive gymnasts – his mother only entered the Masters category in 2020 at the age of 56 – Uchimura began training at the age of three on a trampoline that his parents had acquired from the United States.
Finishing up in his very first competition sparked a wild appetite for hard work and a rigorous training program that involved visualizing techniques as drawings in a notebook.
“When I was little, I sometimes got nervous and empty,” Uchimura once told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. “But when I was in high school, if I just tried hard, I thought I could fly.”
After moving to Tokyo for training as a teenager, Uchimura was first inducted into the national team in 2007 and selected for the 2008 Beijing Olympics at the age of 19 Olympic medals.
But when injuries crept in, he didn’t even make it into the national team two years ago and said on Saturday “that was the low point for me.”
He recently told Japanese media that after his late coach came to him in a dream and advised him to only concentrate on the horizontal bar, he changed his focus and found that his shoulder pain “miraculously disappeared”.
Still, he barely tortured his way through a tie-break to Japan’s Olympic team earlier this year, whereupon he ruefully referred to himself as the “old foggy guy” compared to his teammates, some of whom were a decade younger, but said he hoped that he still had a role to play for her by offering advice and support.
On Saturday, the team – all of them newcomers to the Olympics – landed in first place after two subdivisions appeared and prevailed over the powerhouses Russia and China.
“They are just amazing. They are almost too great for words for their first Olympics,” said Uchimura.
“When I got back on the ground after my performance, they got together, discussed and solved problems themselves. I don’t think they need me anymore.”