Long live the King; Uchimura’s Olympic career ends in grace

Jul 23, 2021, 3:44 PM | Updated: Jul 24, 2021, 4:31 am

TOKYO (AP) — Kohei Uchimura spent a decade redefining the standard of excellence in men’s gymnastics. The two-time Olympic champion’s combination of grace and precision — coupled with a soft-spoken humility that did its best to downplay his otherworldly talent — made him a superstar in Japan and widely revered everywhere else.

The man they call “King Kohei” didn’t need to stick around for the Tokyo Olympics. He did anyway, throwing himself back into the gym as he entered his early 30s in a quest for one more flash of brilliance in front of the country where he has long been a household name.

Still, things never quite felt right. The coronavirus pandemic pushed the games back a year. Injuries accrued from a quarter-century of pushing his body to the limit kept cropping up. Yet he somehow managed to will himself into an individual spot on the Japanese Olympic team, fending off challenges from younger athletes who grew up idolizing him.

The glorious sendoff, however, never materialized. The stands inside the Ariake Gymnastics Center were largely empty when Uchimura saluted the judges before his high-bar set during Olympic qualifying on Saturday. For 30 seconds he turned his signature event into a time machine, executing a series of daring releases with the casual confidence that defined his prime.

In a flash, it changed. It always does in gymnastics. First his right hand came off the bar. Then his left. Suddenly, he was on the mat. The small gathering of coaches, administrators and dignitaries who stopped to watch let out a small gasp. Slowly, Uchimura stood up, gathered himself and hopped back up for potentially one last ride.

He drilled his dismount — of course he did — then made a brief wave. His score of 13.866 wasn’t anywhere close to the top eight, the cutoff to reach the event finals later in the Games.

While the Japanese team moved on from high bar to floor exercise, Uchimura quietly packed up his team bag, pulled on a jacket and disappeared.

“In the last three Olympic Games, I could perform what I could have, what I could practice,” Uchimura said through a translator. “But not this competition.”

Whether it’s his last remains to be seen. The world championships are in Japan in October. That’s only three months away. It’s possible he sticks around. He said he will have to think about it.

Uchimura made it a point, however, to stress he wasn’t disappointed. He wasn’t sure he could even earn an Olympic spot, not with a loaded group of Japanese gymnasts who entered the sport around the time he won the first of his six world all-around titles in London in 2009.

Daiki Hashimoto, just 19, raced to the top of the leaderboard during qualifying with a performance that could best be described as Uchimura-lite. The four-man Japanese team, all first-time Olympians, hardly looked bothered by the stakes or the pressure of delivering at home.

In short, they looked just like Uchimura did for years on end. Composed. Charismatic. Precise. Hashimoto believes the group that will go for gold during the team finals on Monday is better than the one Uchimura guided to the top of the podium in Rio de Janeiro five years ago.

Uchimura doesn’t necessarily disagree. He watched Japan’s final four rotations and drank in the moment as the program he stewarded to glory moved on without him.

“I found them sorting out problems by themselves,” Uchimura said. “So I thought, I’m not needed at that level. All right.”

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard, second from right, celebrates with teammates after making a b...
Associated Press

Rookie Nembhard hits 3 at buzzer, Pacers stun Lakers 116-115

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rookie Andrew Nembhard hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and the Indiana Pacers rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a stunning 116-115 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night. Tyrese Haliburton scored 24 points and hit a tying layup with 39 seconds left for the […]
24 hours ago
Edmonton Oilers' Leon Draisaitl (29), Darnell Nurse (25), Connor McDavid (97), Devin Shore (14) and...
Associated Press

Bouchard, Draisaitl help Oilers beat Panthers 4-3 in OT

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Evan Bouchard scored the tying goal with 5 seconds remaining in the third period and Leon Draisaitl got the winner 22 seconds into overtime as the Edmonton Oilers beat the Florida Panthers 4-3 on Monday night. Bouchard took a desperate shot from the slot late in regulation and beat Panthers goalie […]
24 hours ago
FILE - Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu hits an RBI-double during the eighth inning of a baseball gam...
Associated Press

Free agent slugger José Abreu signs 3-year deal with Astros

HOUSTON (AP) — José Abreu and the World Series champion Astros agreed to a three-year contract Monday, adding another powerful bat to Houston’s lineup. Abreu, the 2020 AL MVP, spent his first nine major league seasons with the Chicago White Sox. The first baseman became a free agent after batting .304 with 15 home runs, […]
24 hours ago
Associated Press

Blackshear’s 16 help Nevada take down Sam Houston 78-60

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Kenan Blackshear scored 16 points as Nevada beat Sam Houston 78-60 on Monday. Blackshear shot 4 of 10 from the field and 7 for 11 from the line for the Wolf Pack (7-1). Jarod Lucas shot 4 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range) and 6 of 6 from the […]
24 hours ago
Associated Press

Stevenson scores 23 as Cal Poly downs Pacific (CA) 62-58

STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) — Brantly Stevenson helped lead Cal Poly past Pacific (CA) on Monday with 23 points off of the bench in a 62-58 win. Stevenson also had eight rebounds for the Mustangs (3-3). Nick Fleming shot 4 for 9, including 2 for 5 from beyond the arc to add 12 points. Trevon Taylor […]
24 hours ago
Associated Press

Booker scores 44, Suns top Kings 122-117 for 5th straight

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Devin Booker had 44 points, eight rebounds and six steals, and the Phoenix Suns extended their winning streak to five with a 122-117 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday night. “That’s kind of what I get paid to do,” Booker said. “I was worried about getting everyone else involved. Late […]
24 hours ago
Long live the King; Uchimura’s Olympic career ends in grace