When Kohei Uchimura fell off high bar on the final routine of the men’s team final at the World Championships on Wednesday, during arguably the most pressure-filled moments of his career, it showed that the Japanese icon is, in fact, capable of major mistakes.
It brought to mind Uchimura’s failure on his last routine of the 2012 Olympic team final, when his flailing pommel horse dismount knocked Japan off the podium, before judges upped his score upon appeal to lift the Japanese to silver.
“Almost every time there has been a little pressure on the last event he has missed,” two-time U.S. Olympian Jonathan Horton tweeted.
Uchimura may be more beatable than at any point in the last six years heading into the World Championships men’s all-around final Friday. Put some pressure on him, and who knows what can happen.
The problem is, nobody has made Uchimura sweat since he took silver in the 2008 Olympic all-around, well behind China’s Yang Wei.
Uchimura captured every Olympic and World all-around title since, a six-year streak unmatched in gymnastics history. No other man or woman has won more than three World all-around titles.
Yet there’s reason to doubt Uchimura won’t dust the field in Glasgow, Scotland, as he has in the past.
Last year, Uchimura won his fifth straight World all-around title by 1.492 points. An easy victory, but not the blowouts of 2009 (2.575), 2010 (2.283) and 2011 (3.101). It was his smallest margin of victory among his six Olympic or World titles.
The statistical margin between Uchimura and the rest of the field lessened last year, but the mental gap remained.
Silver medalist Max Whitlock of Great Britain, after becoming the closest man to beating Uchimura since Yang at Beijing 2008, said it was “an absolute honor” to finish second to Uchimura.
“Kohei is quite over our head at the moment as you saw by the scores today,” Whitlock reportedly said then.
Russia’s David Belyavskiy finished fifth in 2014 and was asked what it would take to beat Uchimura.
“As yet we do not have an answer to that question,” he reportedly said. “If we knew how to do it we would to it.”
Uchimura qualified first into Friday’s final, as he had done at the previous five World Championships (Uchimura qualified ninth into the 2012 Olympic final).
The gap between Uchimura and the field in qualifying in Glasgow? Just .433 over runner-up Oleg Verniaiev, the European all-around champion from Ukraine.
“I don’t want to guess anything right now,” Verniaiev said after qualifying of facing Uchimura. “We’ll have to see on the day because in the final, we will both start from zero. I have a few plans for the final, but those plans also bring risks.”
In the team final Wednesday, Uchimura competed on all six events and scored 91.531 points, despite that fall on high bar, in leading Japan to its first World title since 1978.
Meanwhile, Whitlock, who at 22 is four years younger than Uchimura, also competed on all six events in the team final and scored 90.932, which was .599 behind Uchimura.
Whitlock counted zero falls in the team final and beat his 2014 World all-around final score by nearly half of a point. Uchimura counted a fall and scored about four tenths fewer than his 2014 World all-around final score.
So a sixth straight World all-around title appears to be Uchimura’s to lose, but the rest of the world is closer to finding the answer to beating the Japanese legend.
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