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Kohei Uchimura’s streak as Japanese champion ends at 10 years

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Not only is Kohei Uchimura‘s reign as world all-around champion finished, but he’s also no longer the Japanese national all-around champion.

Uchimura, the double Olympic all-around gold medalist and eight-time world-all around champ, finished third at the All-Japan Championships over the weekend.

“This gives me a sample of something I haven’t tasted up to this point,” Uchimura said, according to Kyodo News. “From now on, it’s no longer about results.”

The 29-year-old Uchimura, largely considered the greatest gymnast in history, won every Japanese all-around title from 2008 through 2017. He won every Olympic and world title from 2009 through 2016 before withdrawing during last fall’s worlds with an ankle injury.

“Win or lose, either way is fine,” Uchimura said Sunday, according to Kyodo. “I didn’t make it to the finals at the world championships because I got hurt. But now [with this loss] I’m finally released.”

Uchimura had the highest score on the second day of competition Sunday, but he could not overcome a deficit from falling off the pommel horse on the opening day Friday, where he had the fifth-best score.

He ended up a half-point behind Kakeru Tanigawa, who at 19 became Japan’s youngest male all-around champion, according to Kyodo. World all-around bronze medalist Kenzo Shirai was runner-up.

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.

“Staying in the national team will lead me to the Tokyo Olympics,” Uchimura said, according to Agence France-Presse. “I want to be a team member even if I am out of form.”

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World Gymnastics Championships takeaways

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Three takeaways from the world gymnastics championships in Montreal …

1. Morgan Hurd jumbles U.S. women’s team picture

Hurd was fifth at the 2016 junior nationals and sixth at this year’s senior nationals. Now that the 16-year-old is world all-around champion, where will she stand domestically in 2018? 2020?

Remember, all the focus this year was on Olympic alternate Ragan Smith until Smith injured an ankle in warm-up for the all-around final and withdrew. Smith’s all-around score in qualifying (where she was second overall) would have won gold by seven tenths of a point.

Before worlds, she swept the AT&T American Cup and P&G Championships titles, both quite convincingly. Though Hurd did beat Smith in the U.S. selection camp’s closed-door competition in September to earn a place on the world team.

OK, so Hurd vs. Smith in 2018? It’s not looking that simple.

The second- and third-highest scorers at the P&G Championships came from the junior division. Maile O’Keefe and Emma Malabuyo both move up to senior next year.

As for 2020, Simone BilesAly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez have all said they hope to come back at some point in this Olympic cycle. Only Biles has returned to the gym, but no competition return dates have been set.

Team sizes will be cut from five to four for the Olympics (though two extra gymnasts can compete in individual events).

Also consider the high injury risk.

Chellsie Memmel (2005) and Bridget Sloan (2009) both won world titles the year after an Olympics and then struggled to stay healthy the rest of the quad. Memmel made the 2008 Olympic team, but only competed on uneven bars due to a broken ankle. Sloan withdrew from the 20102 Olympic Trials with an elbow injury.

Two others who won world all-around medals the year after the Olympics — Rebecca Bross (2009, silver) and Kyla Ross (2013, silver) — both did not make it back for the Games three years later.

So, Hurd has a long, tough road ahead for somebody who became the world’s best gymnast in her first year in the senior division.

2. U.S. men have one all-arounder; they need more

National champion Yul Moldauer did well for himself at his first worlds, finishing seventh in the all-around. He did so with a full point fewer in difficulty than anybody else in the top eight.

He’ll go back to Oklahoma for his junior season and presumably continue to improve, adding tougher skills to challenge the Chinese and Japanese.

If the U.S. men are to become Olympic team medal threats again, they need another all-arounder given the roster cut to four.

Will it be Sam Mikulak? The four-time U.S. champion has never been a bigger question mark since he burst onto the scene to make the 2012 Olympic team.

He looked just as promising as Moldauer in 2013, when Mikulak would have won a world all-around medal if not for falling on his last event, high bar. The last four years brought plenty of domestic success, but more Achilles tears (two) than individual international medals (zero).

Mikulak was put on the world team for high bar only and fell in qualifying. He said afterward he will go back to the all-around next year, but as he turns 25 years old, time is not on his side.

3. The international picture isn’t clear, either

The medalists at next year’s worlds in Doha could be very different.

Not only is the U.S. women’s program set for changes, but some of the world’s best gymnasts weren’t able to compete for medals in Montreal.

Romanian Larisa Iordache, a two-time world all-around medalist behind Biles, suffered an Achilles injury in qualifying. Russian Aliya Mustafina, all-around bronze medalist in Rio behind Biles and Raisman, took the year off due to pregnancy but is expected to return in 2018.

There is uncertainty at the top of men’s gymnastics for the first time in eight years.

Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, the world’s top all-arounder from 2009 through 2016, also bowed out in qualifying due to injury. Combine that with Uchimura’s close win in Rio — by .099 over Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev — and he will have a little bit to prove in 2018.

New world champion Xiao Ruoteng of China is seven years younger than Uchimura, who at 28 is past peak age for an all-arounder. Uchimura may trim his focus from the all-around to one or two events ahead of the Tokyo Games.

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Kohei Uchimura pulls out of world all-around, record streak ends

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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.

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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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