Kohei Uchimura

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World Gymnastics Championships takeaways

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Three takeaways from the world gymnastics championships in Montreal …

1. Morgan Hurd jumbles U.S. women’s team picture

Hurd was fifth at the 2016 junior nationals and sixth at this year’s senior nationals. Now that the 16-year-old is world all-around champion, where will she stand domestically in 2018? 2020?

Remember, all the focus this year was on Olympic alternate Ragan Smith until Smith injured an ankle in warm-up for the all-around final and withdrew. Smith’s all-around score in qualifying (where she was second overall) would have won gold by seven tenths of a point.

Before worlds, she swept the AT&T American Cup and P&G Championships titles, both quite convincingly. Though Hurd did beat Smith in the U.S. selection camp’s closed-door competition in September to earn a place on the world team.

OK, so Hurd vs. Smith in 2018? It’s not looking that simple.

The second- and third-highest scorers at the P&G Championships came from the junior division. Maile O’Keefe and Emma Malabuyo both move up to senior next year.

As for 2020, Simone BilesAly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez have all said they hope to come back at some point in this Olympic cycle. Only Biles has returned to the gym, but no competition return dates have been set.

Team sizes will be cut from five to four for the Olympics (though two extra gymnasts can compete in individual events).

Also consider the high injury risk.

Chellsie Memmel (2005) and Bridget Sloan (2009) both won world titles the year after an Olympics and then struggled to stay healthy the rest of the quad. Memmel made the 2008 Olympic team, but only competed on uneven bars due to a broken ankle. Sloan withdrew from the 20102 Olympic Trials with an elbow injury.

Two others who won world all-around medals the year after the Olympics — Rebecca Bross (2009, silver) and Kyla Ross (2013, silver) — both did not make it back for the Games three years later.

So, Hurd has a long, tough road ahead for somebody who became the world’s best gymnast in her first year in the senior division.

2. U.S. men have one all-arounder; they need more

National champion Yul Moldauer did well for himself at his first worlds, finishing seventh in the all-around. He did so with a full point fewer in difficulty than anybody else in the top eight.

He’ll go back to Oklahoma for his junior season and presumably continue to improve, adding tougher skills to challenge the Chinese and Japanese.

If the U.S. men are to become Olympic team medal threats again, they need another all-arounder given the roster cut to four.

Will it be Sam Mikulak? The four-time U.S. champion has never been a bigger question mark since he burst onto the scene to make the 2012 Olympic team.

He looked just as promising as Moldauer in 2013, when Mikulak would have won a world all-around medal if not for falling on his last event, high bar. The last four years brought plenty of domestic success, but more Achilles tears (two) than individual international medals (zero).

Mikulak was put on the world team for high bar only and fell in qualifying. He said afterward he will go back to the all-around next year, but as he turns 25 years old, time is not on his side.

3. The international picture isn’t clear, either

The medalists at next year’s worlds in Doha could be very different.

Not only is the U.S. women’s program set for changes, but some of the world’s best gymnasts weren’t able to compete for medals in Montreal.

Romanian Larisa Iordache, a two-time world all-around medalist behind Biles, suffered an Achilles injury in qualifying. Russian Aliya Mustafina, all-around bronze medalist in Rio behind Biles and Raisman, took the year off due to pregnancy but is expected to return in 2018.

There is uncertainty at the top of men’s gymnastics for the first time in eight years.

Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, the world’s top all-arounder from 2009 through 2016, also bowed out in qualifying due to injury. Combine that with Uchimura’s close win in Rio — by .099 over Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev — and he will have a little bit to prove in 2018.

New world champion Xiao Ruoteng of China is seven years younger than Uchimura, who at 28 is past peak age for an all-arounder. Uchimura may trim his focus from the all-around to one or two events ahead of the Tokyo Games.

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VIDEO: Simone Biles explains returning to the gym

Kohei Uchimura pulls out of world all-around, record streak ends

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MONTREAL — Kohei Uchimura‘s eight-year streak as world’s best gymnast came to an end Monday.

Uchimura pulled out of the world championships all-around qualification with a left ankle injury after three of six events at the 1976 Olympic Stadium.

He was given crutches to get around the arena, watching his countrymen finish the night.

“I feel very sorry for the people who came to support me,” Uchimura said, according to a translator. “I apologize to my teammates.”

The Japanese megastar won the last six world all-around titles and the last two Olympic all-around titles, the longest streak of dominance in gymnastics history.

Uchimura limped badly after his second event in qualifying, vault (video here).

Uchimura said he initially felt so much pain in his left leg that he thought of French gymnast Samir Aït Saïd, who broke his left leg on a gruesome vault landing in Rio. Aït Saïd was in the same qualifying session as Uchimura on Monday.

“After the vault, I couldn’t even walk,” Uchimura said. “I just wanted to keep trying to finish the competition.”

Uchimura moved to parallel bars. He landed his dismount awkwardly, keeping pressure off that left leg.

He then warmed up for his fourth event, high bar, but landed on his back rather than his legs and then hobbled off the competition floor. He decided not to go through with his full routine.

WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule | ScoresWomen to Watch | Men to Watch

A team official said later that Uchimura had dealt with left ankle pain since the 2015 World Championships, but he looked fine leading into these worlds.

After Uchimura suffered the injury on his vault, the official told Uchimura to play it safe with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo in mind.

Uchimura won every world all-around title in the last two Olympic cycles, plus the Olympic golds in 2012 and 2016. He became the first gymnast to repeat as Olympic all-around champion since countryman Sawao Kato in 1972.

Uchimura, 28, could have become the oldest Olympic or world all-around champion in at least 50 years this week.

Instead, the favorites are now Olympic silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine and 2015 World silver medalist Manrique Larduet of Cuba.

Larduet had the top qualifying score through the first three of four qualifying sessions. U.S. champion Yul Moldauer had the seventh-best score with some gymnasts still to qualify Tuesday morning.

The all-around final is Thursday.

Uchimura’s days as an all-around gymnast are numbered. He said before the Rio Olympics that he may limit his focus to one or two events for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

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Five male gymnasts to watch at world championships

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Male gymnasts to watch at the world championships, which begin with qualifying Monday, followed by the all-around final Thursday and apparatus finals on Saturday and Sunday in Montreal (no team event) … 

Kohei Uchimura, Japan
Olympic All-Around Gold: 2012, 2016
World All-Around Gold: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015

Best in the world for eight straight years. Few athletes in any sport have that kind of streak going. Uchimura has shown it all since earning all-around silver at his Olympic debut in 2008. The Nagasaki native can utterly dominate, come from behind, recover from falls, lead a team and win titles on three of the six individual events as well.

But Uchimura’s streak nearly ended in Rio. He needed an incredible final routine — the top high bar score of the entire Olympics — to edge Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev by .099 of a point. Uchimura also failed to earn an apparatus medal at an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2009. His dominance is in question now more than ever.

Oleg Verniaiev, Ukraine
Olympic All-Around Silver Medalist
Olympic, World Parallel Bars Champion

Back to challenge Uchimura. Verniaiev, who turns 24 this week (Uchimura is 28), showed admirable sportsmanship after the controversially scored high bar rotation in Rio, calling Uchimura the Michael Phelps of gymnastics in the post-event press conference.

Verniaiev swept the all-around at the European Championships and World University Games already this year. So he should be ready. He might also be the busiest gymnast in Montreal next weekend. He was the only gymnast to qualify for four apparatus finals at the Olympics.

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Max Whitlock, Great Britain
Olympic All-Around Bronze Medalist
Olympic Floor Exercise, Pommel Horse Champion

The only man other than Uchimura to finish in the top five of the all-around at every worlds and the Olympics in the last cycle. But Whitlock, 24, won’t be doing the all-around in Montreal, choosing to focus on floor and horse. He hopes the lighter workload can extend his career another two Olympics. Watch for him in the weekend apparatus finals.

Kenzo Shirai, Japan
Olympic Bronze Medalist, Vault
World Champion, Floor Exercise

The “Twist Prince” rewrote the history books in the last Olympic cycle, introducing multiple skills on floor and vault that were named after him. Now 21, Shirai has grown into an all-around threat, taking second behind Uchimura at a Japanese competition in May and outscoring 2014 World all-around bronze medalist Yusuke Tanaka. Uchimura was joined by a countryman on the all-around podium at three of the last four worlds, but there’s no guarantee that Japan chooses to have two men do the all-around this year.

Yul Moldauer, U.S.
P&G Championships All-Around Champion
AT&T American Cup Champion

Moldauer, a rising University of Oklahoma junior, actually beat Verniaiev at the American Cup in Newark, N.J., on March 4 in his first top-level international meet. The 5-foot-3 gymnast has the international artistic “look,” NBC Olympics analyst Tim Daggett said. While he’s clean, Moldauer might lack the difficulty to contend in the all-around this year. The U.S. hasn’t put a man on the world all-around podium since Jonathan Horton‘s bronze in 2010.

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