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Japan’s gymnastics worlds team: no Kohei Uchimura, Kenzo Shirai

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Not only is Kohei Uchimura going to miss the world championships, but so is 11-time world medalist Kenzo Shirai.

Japan finalized its five-man team for October’s worlds in Stuttgart, Germany, following a national-level meet this past weekend. Uchimura, arguably the greatest gymnast in history, was already out of the running, sidelined with his latest round of injuries.

Shirai, reportedly slowed by a left ankle injury this season, did compete this weekend. But he finished fifth on floor exercise and third on vault, his two best events, and did not earn one of the last two spots on the world team.

Uchimura, a two-time Olympic all-around champion with six world all-around titles, misses worlds for the first time since 2007. Shirai, a 22-year-old with four world titles between floor and vault, had competed in every worlds since debuting in 2013, just after his 17th birthday.

Without their two stars, Japan sends a relatively inexperienced team. Kazuma Kaya and Wataru Tanigawa, both 22, are the only men who have been to a worlds (and were part of the 2018 silver-medal team). The youngest member is 17-year-old Daiki Hashimoto.

Japan has earned a team medal at every Olympics and world championships since 2003, a streak bettered only by the U.S. women.

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Kohei Uchimura set to miss world championships for first time

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Kohei Uchimura, regarded by many as the greatest gymnast in history, is in line to miss the world championships for the first time since 2007 as he continues to be sidelined by injury.

“Yes, so far no chance to the worlds for him,” Japan’s gymnastics association said by email when asked if Uchimura will miss October’s worlds after withdrawing from this weekend’s national-level meet.

Uchimura, a two-time Olympic and six-time world all-around champion, is out of this weekend’s meet with a shoulder injury, according to Japanese media.

The 30-year-old said in April that he was in pain from the neck down after left and right ankle ligament damage limited his participation at worlds in 2017 and 2018.

“My body doesn’t move the way I’d hoped it would at this point,” Uchimura said in April, according to an Olympic Channel translation of a Sankei Sports report. “It’s not only the shoulders, but everything from the neck down is painful.”

Uchimura said going into the Rio Games that he planned to scale back his training and perhaps not compete in the all-around at the Tokyo Olympics, which would be his fourth and likely final Games. He will be older than any Japanese Olympic gymnast since 1968.

MORE: Olympic gymnastics team sizes return to five for Paris 2024

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Mai Murakami, all-around silver medalist, ineligible for gymnastics worlds

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Mai Murakami, the world all-around silver medalist behind Simone Biles last year, will not be chosen for Japan’s team for October’s world championships. At the moment, at least.

“Yes, she is in eligible [sic] for the world championships for now,” Japan’s gymnastics federation emailed Monday when asked to confirm reports that Murakami was indeed out of the biggest meet between now and the Tokyo Olympics.

The federation later responded to a follow-up email Monday morning (Monday evening Japan time) asking if Murakami’s status could change or if she could be named an alternate.

“We don’t know yet,” it responded. “We will decide everything by the beginning of July.”

Murakami, 22, missed one of the nation’s spring qualifiers for fall worlds with a reported back injury. That is the reason she’s ineligible, according to Japanese media.

October’s worlds in Germany are crucial for the Japanese women. They must place in the top nine in the team event to qualify a full team for the Tokyo Olympics (setting aside the already qualified U.S., Russia and China).

That shouldn’t be a problem, given Japan has been in the top five at every Olympics and worlds since 2008 (again, setting aside the U.S., Russia and China). But not having its best gymnast, arguably the greatest female gymnast in the nation’s history, makes matters more difficult.

Murakami, a Tokyo native, was a 19-year-old alternate at the 2015 Worlds. She ended up competing due to a teammate’s injury and placed sixth in the all-around, the best finish by a Japanese woman in six years.

In her Olympic debut in Rio, Murakami had the best finish by a Japanese female gymnast, seventh on floor exercise. She followed that by topping all-around qualifying at the 2017 World Championships, where a fall off the balance beam in the final dropped her to fourth.

She bounced back to win the floor exercise title at those Worlds, becoming the second Japanese woman to win an Olympic or world all-around title. And the first since 1954.

Then last year, she finished between Simone Biles and Morgan Hurd, becoming the first woman to beat an American in an Olympic or world all-around final since 2014.

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