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.
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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