Kohei Uchimura
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Kohei Uchimura’s dominance in question in bid for sixth straight World title

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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.

MORE GYMNASTICS: World Championships broadcast schedule

Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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