Kohei Uchimura

Kohei Uchimura
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Kohei Uchimura will not defend Olympic all-around title; will he still get to Tokyo?

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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).

MORE: Olympic age rule stirs reaction from gymnastics community

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As Simone Biles eyes farewell, Olympic gymnastics picture jumbles

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When Simone Biles decided to come back for a second Olympic run, she could not have envisioned this kind of history: Biles, if she makes the Tokyo Olympic team, will become the second U.S. female gymnast in the last 50 years to span eight years competing at the highest international level.

Biles, who won her first world all-around title in 2013, would join Dominique Dawes, an Olympian in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

“Mentally, going another year, I think that’s what going to take a toll,” Biles, expected to retire after Tokyo, said on TODAY two weeks ago.

Had the Olympics been held this summer, Biles, 23, would have still bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic female gymnast since 2004, and the oldest U.S. Olympic female gymnast to ever win a gold medal. Those feats, if accomplished in 2021, will have been even harder earned given the current circumstances.

“You’re working against time, your body, your mind, a growing phase, so many different things,” NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin said. “So it’s definitely scary, I think, for a lot of those that were vying for a spot on the team to rethink and wonder, where am I going to be in a year?”

One month ago, before sports were halted indefinitely, the U.S. Olympic team situation was this: Biles an overwhelming favorite to clinch one of the four team-event spots at June’s Olympic Trials. Another 10 or so women in the mix for the other three spots.

After Biles, the next name mentioned has to be Sunisa Lee. The 17-year-old from Minnesota was runner-up to Biles in her senior nationals debut last August. She then joined Biles in the world championships all-around in October, placing eighth, though she would have earned a medal if not for an uncharacteristic fall off her best apparatus, the uneven bars.

“If [Lee] has a year coming up like she had last year, then she’s going to be hard-pressed to not make that Olympic team,” NBC Olympics analyst Tim Daggett said.

Decisions in the last week altered the picture. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) ruled that the most recent international Olympic qualifying competition in March, which was halted between qualifying and finals, will have those qualifying scores count as final results.

If nothing else changes, that means that Jade Carey became the first American gymnast to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics — in individual events, but not as part of the four-woman team-event roster. One more American woman can be named to the Olympics in individual events only apart from the four-woman team.

Also, the federation made a ruling on age minimums that led the gymnastics community to believe that current 15-year-olds, who would be too young for a 2020 Olympics, were made eligible for 2021.

At least one gymnast who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year made the last 10 U.S. Olympic women’s teams. Konnor McClain and Skye Blakely, second and fourth at last year’s junior nationals, just entered the already crowded picture for Olympic team spots.

Older gymnasts in contention include: Morgan Hurd, who won the world all-around title during Biles’ one-year break in 2017. Hurd did not make the six-woman world championships team last year but rebounded to win the American Cup last month.

MyKayla Skinner, a Rio Olympic alternate looking to become the first U.S. female gymnast with NCAA experience to make an Olympic team since Brown’s Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

Kayla DiCello, last year’s junior national champion who impressed enough there and at national team camps to be named, along with Hurd, to the American Cup.

And Kara Eaker and Grace McCallum, the two women other than Biles to compete for the U.S. at each of the last two world championships.

“There are going to be four athletes [who don’t make the team], at least, that anywhere else in the world will win an Olympic medal,” Daggett said.

A variable brought by the coronavirus pandemic: Some athletes still have gym time. Biles tweeted Thursday that she has not been training. Others around the world have home set-ups, equipment included.

“That’s the biggest piece of concern for a lot of people,” Liukin said. “I don’t think I ever took more than a long weekend off. That’s scary. It’s scary to think that you could possibly be going months without doing gymnastics on the equipment, and then wondering how long is it going to take for me to get back to where I was before all this happened.”

Many of the top U.S. men often work out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, but that was shut down last month. How will it affect Sam Mikulak, bidding to become the fist U.S. male gymnast to span nine or more years among Olympic appearances since 1948? Or Yul Moldauer, the 2017 U.S. all-around champion who battled injuries the last two years (and recently started training on a pommel horse in a garage).

The biggest name in men’s gymnastics is Kohei Uchimura, the eight-time Olympic or world all-around champion from Japan. Uchimura fought injuries every year of this Olympic cycle to hang on for 2020. His finish line just extended another year.

“For guys that are older and have been sidelined for a longer period of time, coming back from injuries, I think it’s going to be harder for them,” Daggett said. “[Uchimura] may come out of this better, but I would say that the odds are against that. 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.”

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Who is Japan’s greatest Olympian?

Kaori Icho
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Japan, host of the Tokyo Olympics next year, is best known for its gymnasts, wrestlers, judokas and figure skaters. At Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018, it broke national records for total medals at a single Games. A look at six of its most decorated Olympians in history …

Yuzuru Hanyu
Figure Skating
Two Olympic gold medals

Largely recognized as the greatest figure skater in history (other athletes on this list can make the same claim for their events). Hanyu, a 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion, became the first repeat men’s singles figure skating champion since Dick Button in 1952. The 25-year-old from Sendai rewrote the record book for highest scores (since surpassed by American Nathan Chen) with an unmatched combination of athleticism and artistry. His fans camp outside arenas — even for lower-level events in North America — dress in his costumes and shower the ice with Winnie the Poohs, his favorite animated character.

Kaori Icho
Wrestling
Four Olympic gold medals

In Rio, Icho became the first woman to win individual gold medals in four Summer Olympics. The men to do it: Michael PhelpsCarl LewisAl Oerter, Ben Ainslie and Paul Elvstrom. Icho once held a 13-year win streak and owns 10 world championships. She has been somewhat of a mystery to Japanese fans, seeking privacy and living for a time with her sister in Canada and skipping a world championships during her peak years. Icho’s Olympic career is likely over after another Japanese wrestler qualified for the Tokyo Games in her weight division last year.

Sawao Kato
Gymnastics
Eight Olympic gold medals

Owns the most Olympic men’s gymnastics titles and the most gold medals for any Japanese Olympian. The 5-foot-3 Kato was a pillar of the Japanese dynasty in the 1960s and ’70s, when the nation won five straight Olympic team titles. He earned two golds and one silver in the all-around in that span.

Kosuke Kitajima
Swimming
Four Olympic gold medals

The greatest breaststroker in history. Kitajima swept the 100m and 200m events at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics among seven total medals in four Olympic appearances. So famous in Japan, he moved to Los Angeles to escape the public eye. In retirement, Kitajima has worked in Japanese media: he covered the 2018 U.S. Swimming Championships in California and took American star Chase Kalisz out for golf for another broadcast piece.

Tadahiro Nomura
Judo
Three Olympic gold medals

The only judoka with three Olympic titles. Nomura won the extra lightweight (60kg) division in 1996, 2000 and 2004. His father coached a 1984 Olympic champion judoka. His uncle won an Olympic judo title in 1972. Nomura gained extra visibility at home given judo was founded in Japan. The Japanese are far and away the most successful judo nation by Olympic medals (84 total, 39 gold).

Kohei Uchimura
Gymnastics
Two Olympic all-around titles

King Kohei won every Olympic and world all-around title from 2009-16, including becoming the first man since Kato to repeat as Olympic all-around gold medalist. Similar to Simone Biles‘ dominance, there was a stretch where peers went into competitions vying for, at best, second place. Uchimura, the son of gymnasts, grew up in his parents’ gym and began competing at age 6. Since winning the Rio Olympic all-around by a razor-thin .099, he has struggled with injuries, putting him in doubt to make the Tokyo Games.

MORE: Most decorated U.S. female Olympian on front line of coronavirus fight

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