Guts an ingredient in recipe for gold

Japan's Kohei Uchimura performing on his final rotation, the horizontal bar, where he overtook Ukraine's Oleg Verniaiev to win the individual all-around crown on Wednesday. It was on this apparatus that he fell during qualification.
Japan's Kohei Uchimura performing on his final rotation, the horizontal bar, where he overtook Ukraine's Oleg Verniaiev to win the individual all-around crown on Wednesday. It was on this apparatus that he fell during qualification.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIO DE JANEIRO • Sweat and guts are the secrets behind Kohei Uchimura's incredible success story, the Japanese gymnastics great said on Wednesday after claiming a second all-around men's title for a third Olympic gold.

A soaring horizontal-bar routine saw the 27-year-old snatch the coveted individual title with a score of 92.365, just 0.099 ahead of Ukraine's Oleg Verniaiev, in a thrilling final in the Rio Olympic Arena. Britain's Max Whitlock took the bronze (90.641).

Uchimura had been behind his 22-year-old rival going onto the final apparatus but sealed gold with an acrobatic display involving spectacular swings and turns.

"I can't really explain why I have maintained this supremacy," said the Japanese, unbeaten since taking the first of his record six world all-around titles in 2009.

"It's sheer guts and determination. I have been pushing and pushing to continue and it has paid off."

"King Kohei" becomes the first man to retain his title since countryman Sawao Kato in 1972 - who he joins on a record three Olympic all-around medals, after silver in 2008.

Altogether, he has seven Olympic medals over three Games with the possibility of another in the floor final next week.

Coach Takahiro Moriizumi puts Uchimura's longevity down to his incredible mental strength.

"Mentally he's a very strong athlete. He has an ability to reproduce what he does in training every day in competition," said Moriizumi. "In gymnastics, the rules change every four years. Other athletes find this hard but not Uchimura. His strength is he's so adaptable."

Uchimura has 19 world medals, including 10 in gold, and is the first gymnast to have won every all-around gold in an Olympic cycle - a feat he has achieved twice.

His rivals are unanimous in their admiration of the Japanese maestro some compare to a "machine" or "robot" who can win even when injured.

In 2010 in Rotterdam, Uchimura competed and won gold despite a shoulder injury.

In 2011, in Tokyo, the 1.62m-tall gymnast battled a leg injury to win by a record margin of 3.101.

But, despite claiming a third Olympic gold, the Japanese superstar does not consider himself a legend.

"Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, everybody knows these names, but Kohei Uchimura, who is this man?" he said.

Back home, he is a superstar and his next target will be to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"I want to be there (in 2020). I want to take part. By that time my daughter (born last year) would be old enough, so I hope I would be able to show her what her father can do."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2016, with the headline 'Guts an ingredient in recipe for gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe