Kohei Uchimura
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Kohei Uchimura, low-key legend, cements his gymnastics legacy

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RIO DE JANEIRO – Kohei Uchimura rejected comparisons to Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt after padding the argument (not his, but that of many on his behalf) that he is the greatest gymnast of all time.

“Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, everybody in the world knows these names,” the Nagasaki native said after winning his second straight Olympic all-around title Wednesday, “but Kohei Uchimura, who is this man?”

In success alone, he is to gymnastics what Phelps has been to swimming and what Bolt has been to sprinting. Eight Olympic or world all-around titles in eight years.

The global fame is not comparable, but Uchimura’s personality suggests he prefers it that way.

Of course he is adored in Japan, and, especially, by a group of 13 people who stood, or sat on their seat edges, in section 106, row B on Wednesday evening.

The ring leader, mother Shuko, fainted in between chairs when the arena learned her son had overtaken Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev for gold by .099 of a point after the last routine.

MORE: Uchimura wins second consecutive all-around title

Japanese photographers rushed to capture the moment as she was helped up by friends and family.

“I don’t know why my mother fainted, but it’s something she just did,” Uchimura said, smiling through a translator, when he was notified a half-hour later. “Sometimes you just don’t know why parents behave in the way they do.”

Uchimura clearly takes after his mother in many ways.

Shuko and her husband, Kazuhisa, were gymnasts who opened their own gym when Uchimura was 3 years old. Uchimura began competing at age 6, and younger sister Haruhi followed.

He finished last in that first competition and took longer to learn a back handspring than any gymnast in his age group.

Yet Uchimura soon became immersed. He sketched new skills in a notebook, practicing them on the family trampoline and visualizing them by contorting a stuffed animal. Gymnastics meant so much to him that he cried in first grade when he forgot his floor exercise routine.

At 15, he left Nagasaki to train in Tokyo and soon developed into the world’s greatest gymnast.

At 19, he earned the 2008 Olympic all-around silver medal. He hasn’t lost a major all-around since, taking two straight Olympic titles and six world titles (no other man or woman has more than three world all-around titles, but all of the previous men to win multiple Olympic all-around crowns competed in an era without annual world championships).

“He is a legend,” Verniaiev said.

MORE: Uchimura secures team gold for Japan on floor

Uchimura would never call himself a legend. He says Belarus’ Vitaly Scherbo, winner of six gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, is the greatest of all time.

Uchimura is a man who rejects the hero worship and values his privacy. He is married with two daughters, but has chosen not to reveal the names of any of them to the public. There is no personal life section on his Wikipedia page.

Uchimura’s early development as a gymnast was hindered by his uneasiness with being spotted by a coach.

“Kohei doesn’t like to be touched,” his mom once told Japanese media.

His shyness separates from the shrieking Shuko, who made headlines in 2014 for competing in gymnastics meet herself. She is short and thin but hands-on.

Before competition began Wednesday, Shuko had her own way of laying out banners and photos and brought with her a large shopping bag, backpack and fanny pack filled with the necessary items to cheer on her son and countryman Ryohei Kato.

It took about a half-hour of prep, with the help of others, to make everything just so.

Once the meet started, Shuko spent most of it siting on the edge of seats 16 and 17 in row B. Before all six of Uchimura’s routines, she would scream his name.

And just before he mounted, she would do something quieter. Something more Kohei-like.

Shuko carefully turned around to a seat back, where she had taped a pocket-sized photo album of maybe 10 pages. The album, which showed considerable wear, was open to two images, one each of a different older man smiling next to a young boy.

They were Uchimura’s grandfathers, said one of the members of the 13-strong contingent.

Shuko reached her hand down and turned her palm away from the seat. She grazed the photos with the back of her hand, as if caressing a baby’s bottom.

Then she turned back around and waited for Uchimura to go. Shuko couldn’t bear to watch her son’s routines most of the time, hiding her eyes behind one of those large banners, which she held outstretched in her arms for most of the two-and-a-half-hour competition.

“I’m nervous,” said Shuko, who speaks little English and whose black bangs draped over a white bandana with the Japanese flag emblem. “I cry.”

Her son did not appear to shed tears on the medal stand after the closest victory of his King Kohei reign on Wednesday. He gives away little emotion.

His most outward display may have come after last year’s world all-around title, when he forcefully counted to six with his fingers in front of a video camera.

He relayed this story via email:

“The last day of camp, both teams have really kind of started to relax, and I look over and there is this 16-year-old kid jumping on trampoline doing some pretty awesome stuff. Me being me, I had to go join ‘cause I used to be pretty crazy on tramp. Anyways, this kid starts doing like perfect form quintuple twisting doubles into a resi pit. So I try it, and can’t do it like him, but he still gives me a huge thumbs-up and a smile like he couldn’t believe anyone else would try what he was doing. Of course all my team starts watching me and this kid just doing the hardest and might I add dumbest stuff ever, but they keep giving me a hard time about how his form is perfect and I just look like a sloppy American.

“So this goes on for like 30 minutes. Just back and forth and constantly one-upping each other. Finally I did a trick that he wouldn’t try. I did a skill called a full twisting triple kaboom. He looks at me, laughs, waves his finger, and we all started laughing. After we finished, him and I walked onto the floor and our translator, who is also the chairman of USA Gymnastics, Yoichi Tomita, came up to him and I so we could speak. Long story short, he told me I was crazy. I told him he was crazy. Then he said my name is Kohei. I told him mine and he said to me I will never forget you.”

Uchimura’s name will be remembered long past his retirement, which is expected to come after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Uchimura has said he is inspired by Bolt, that he admires Bolt’s coolness and stating that he wants to be a legend.

“I can’t say that myself,” of being a legend, Uchimura told the BBC in 2013.

Phelps, meanwhile, has long said his goal has been to change the sport of swimming. He has certainly done that, increasing its presence and popularity.

Uchimura would like to do the same.

“Not my name,” Uchimura said, “but I really hope gymnastics will be as famous as swimming by Phelps and running by Usain Bolt.”

1960 Winter Olympic host considers name change over derogatory term

Squaw Valley
AP
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TAHOE CITY, Calif. — California’s popular Squaw Valley Ski Resort is considering changing its name to remove the word “squaw” — a derogatory term for Native American women — amid a national reckoning over racial injustice and inequality.

The word “squaw,” derived from the Algonquin language, may have once simply meant “woman,” but over generations, the word morphed into a misogynist and racist term to disparage indigenous women, said Vanessa Esquivido, a professor of American Indian Studies at California State University, Chico.

“That word is an epithet and a slur. It’s been a slur for a very long time,” she said.

When settlers arrived in the 1850s in the area where the Sierra Nevada mountain resort is now located, they first saw only Native American women working in a meadow. The land near Lake Tahoe was believed to have been given the name Squaw Valley by those early settlers.

But now the term is considered derogatory and even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as an offensive term for a Native American woman.

The possible renaming of Squaw Valley Ski Resort is one of many efforts across the nation to address colonialism and indigenous oppression, including the removal of statues of Christopher Columbus, a symbol to many of European colonization and the death of native people.

On Monday, the National Football League’s Washington Redskins announced the team is dropping the “Redskins” name and Indian head logo.

Regional California tribes have asked for the name of Squaw Valley Ski Resort — which received international name recognition when it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics — to be changed numerous times over the years, with little success.

But the idea is gaining momentum.

Squaw Valley President & CEO Ron Cohen said the resort is currently taking inventory of all the places where the name appears on and off the property, how much it would cost to change and what to prioritize if the change moves ahead.

Removing “squaw” from the resort name would be a lengthy and expensive process, Cohen said, as the name appears on hundreds of signs and is imprinted on everything from uniforms to vehicles.

Cohen, who took over as head of the resort two years ago, said the operators are also meeting with shareholders, including business and homeowners within the resort, as well as the local Washoe tribal leadership to get their input.

Cohen said he could not give a timeline on when a decision could be made.

Washoe Tribe Chairman Serrell Smokey said the name Squaw Valley is a constant reminder of efforts to disparage native people.

He’s in favor of the name change and suggested “Olympic Valley” as a replacement.

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‘In Deep with Ryan Lochte’ highlights Peacock launch sports offerings

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“In Deep with Ryan Lochte,” a documentary on the swimmer’s Rio Olympic scandal and return from suspensions, premieres on Peacock on Wednesday, when NBC Universal’s new streaming service launches.

From NBC Universal PR: “[Lochte] was at the center of a scandal that has since overshadowed a decorated swimming career that includes 12 Olympic medals. Now a 35-year-old husband and father of two young children, Lochte is hoping for one more chance to make Team USA and prove he’s not the same man he was four years ago.”

Lochte’s life since his Rio gas-station incident: a 10-month suspension, engagement and marriage to Kayla Reid, the birth of son Caiden and daughter Liv, the dedication of his swims at the 2020 Olympics to Nicholas Dworet, a swimmer killed in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, a 14-month ban after he posted a social media image of an illegal IV transfusion of a legal substance, a six-week alcohol addiction rehab stint and a 2019 U.S. title in the 200m individual medley (the meet lacked top Olympic hopefuls).

In the film, Lochte revisits what happened in Rio, when he embellished the actual story: that he, and three other U.S. swimmers, were confronted by a security guard after Lochte ripped down a sign outside of a bathroom after late-night drinking. The swimmers’ competition was over.

“I messed up before that night even started,” Lochte said in the film. “I shouldn’t have even thought about going out and getting drunk. I should have represented my country the way we were taught. It just kind of spiraled down from there.

“It was all my fault, and I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”

The security guard, who pointed a gun at Lochte but not against his forehead, and a Rio police chief were interviewed on camera for the film.

Lochte said he plans to tell his children everything that happened.

“I don’t want to lie to them ever,” he said.

After the Olympics, Lochte said he saw a headline that said he was “the worst person in the world.” Most of all, he regretted that younger swimmers who previously looked up to him said he was no longer their role model.

“This is the most pressure I’ve had in my entire life,” Lochte said. “Yes, I made a mistake in Rio, and I need to earn the respect from my fellow swimmers, from Team USA, from everyone in the world. I gotta earn the respect. If I don’t make the Olympic team, they won’t see the change that I’ve made.”

Lochte, trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic male swimmer in history, ranks fifth among Americans since the start of 2019 in the 200m IM. The top two at next summer’s Olympic Trials make the Tokyo Games.

“It’s pretty obvious now, I’m 100 percent family,” Lochte, who shed 30 added pounds from his time away from swimming, said at last August’s U.S. Championships. “That party-boy image that I used to have, I know it kind of messed me up, and it stuck with me, but that’s not me. I could care less about that lifestyle. My celebrations are picking up my son and my daughter and playing with them.”

Peacock’s launch also includes another sports offering, “Lost Speedways,” a series on the great racing cathedrals of the past created and hosted by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NBC Sports’ full Premier League match and studio coverage on Wednesday will be presented free on Peacock. That includes four matches, led by Liverpool at Arsenal at 3:15 p.m. ET. More information is here.

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