The greatest male gymnast in history gave up hope of competing in the two biggest finals of what could be his last Olympics, and a home Games at that, 13 months before the Opening Ceremony. Will he make it to the Tokyo Games at all?
Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, who won all eight Olympic and world all-around titles from 2009-16, fought injuries every year of this Olympic cycle and missed the world championships last year for the first time since 2007.
Even with the Tokyo Games postponed to 2021, the soft-spoken king is already saying his best chance to compete will be to focus on one apparatus — high bar — rather than attempting the all-around to make the four-gymnast Japanese roster for the team event.
Uchimura, a 31-year-old who developed a penchant for Pokemon Go, said going into the Rio Games that he did not expect to compete in the individual all-around in Tokyo. He gave up the chance to become the first three-time Olympic all-around champ.
Uchimura, by also withdrawing from team-event consideration and focusing on the high bar, moved those previous comments a step farther. He’s taking himself out of the running for four of up to six Japanese men’s Olympic spots. Outside of the four-person team event, a nation can potentially qualify those fifth and sixth spots for individual events only.
Japan is likely to qualify those two extra spots to give Uchimura a chance of being chosen for Tokyo, where he would be one the biggest stars for the Olympic host nation across all sports. Even if he competes in just one of the eight men’s gymnastics medal finals.
However, another Japanese gymnast, Kohei Kameyama, could grab one of those two spots for himself via results in the World Cup series on pommel horse. That will not be determined until the last series stop in Doha, postponed from last March to some time in 2021.
Aside from that route, Japan’s gymnastics federation would have power over how those fifth and sixth spots would be filled.
Uchimura’s quest is complicated by the fact that Japan has a new high bar standout in Hidetaka Miyachi, who boasts the most difficult element on the apparatus. If Miyachi, who has never competed in a team event at the world championships, is not on the four-man team-event roster in Tokyo, he and Uchimura may be in direct competition for one Olympic spot.
“[Uchimura] may come out of this [one-year Olympic postponement] better, but I would say that the odds are against that,” NBC Sports analyst Tim Daggett said in early spring, after the Olympics were postponed. “He had a long period of time to figure out what his plan was. They had already taken the time off that they needed to address some of those physical issues. Now, it’s a very long road again.”
Olympic history is dotted by athletes who make one last bid to compete in a home Games at or near the end of their careers. Most recently, weightlifter Pyrros Dimas in 2004 (bronze), diver Guo Jingjing and gymnast Yang Wei in 2008 (each double gold), cyclist Chris Hoy in 2012 (double gold) and swimmer Cesar Cielo in 2016 (failed to qualify).
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