Gymnastics: 'King Kohei' strives for more after sixth all-around world crown

Kohei Uchimura of Japan performs on the pommel horse during the men's all-around finals on day eight at the 46th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships.
Kohei Uchimura of Japan performs on the pommel horse during the men's all-around finals on day eight at the 46th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships.PHOTO: EPA

GLASGOW (AFP) - Japanese sporting superstar Kohei Uchimura has long assured his place in the pantheon of gymnastics' greats.

Three years after winning the individual gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, the 26-year-old added a sixth straight world all-around title to his collection on Friday.

Uchimura's ninth world gold came two days after helping Japan win their first world team title since 1978 in Glasgow.

Winning that coveted title had been Uchimura's priority after Japan's four successive silver medals behind China.

The team success helped partially erase memories of losing the Olympic team final in London.

And as if a burden had been lifted off his shoulders, the normally reserved Uchimura smiled and pumped his fists at each element nailed in the all-around final.

He finished off in acrobatic style on the high bar, from which he had fallen in the team final, to seal victory by a 1.634-point margin on Cuba's Manrique Larduet with China's Deng Shudi winning bronze.

"This is the first time I've gotten a gold medal after winning the team gold, that is why I was more relaxed today," explained Uchimura.

And with Sunday's high bar final still to come, he could well finish the world championships with another gold medal around his neck.

But despite his 18 world medals - nine in gold - and five Olympic medals including all-around gold, Uchimura still does not consider himself the greatest gymnast of all time.

"I'm first in this competition but I can't say I'm the best in the world even if I've won a lot of medals because this is something I can't decide," said Uchimura modestly.

"I have seen many great gymnasts in history, so I don't think I'm the best."

His long-avowed ambition is to outshine the legendary Vitaly Scherbo, whom Uchimura believes is the greatest gymnast in history.

Belarusian Scherbo won six out the eight men's events for the Commonwealth of Former Soviet Republics at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics - the greatest haul of gold medals won by any gymnast at a single Games.

Scherbo also has 12 world titles.

Uchimura's style combines difficulty, strength, elegance and a persistent search for perfection which began at an early age.

His father, Kazuhisa, was a competitive gymnast while his mother, Shuko, competed at university level.

Kohei began training at his parents' gym, in Nagasaki, when he was just three years old.

The young Uchimura left his family at 15 to train in Tokyo with his hero, the Athens gold medallist Naoya Tsukahara, before joining the national team in 2007.

Discreet concerning his private life, Uchimura married in November 2012 and has two daughters, aged one and two.

His rivals are unanimous in their admiration of the Japanese maestro some compare to a "machine" or "robot", whose iron will means that even when injured he can still overcome his challengers.

In 2010 in Rotterdam, Uchimura competed and won gold despite a shoulder injury. In 2011, in Tokyo, the 1.62m gymnast battled a leg injury to win by a record margin of 3.101.

"He was phenomenal," said Ukraine's Oleg Verniaiev, who finished fourth.

"He added something to every routine today (Friday), just as I expected. I feel like you have to aim for even more than he does, or not to compete at all."

Ten months before the Rio Games there remains one major title missing - Olympic team gold - but Uchimura's ambitions don't stop there.

"If I make the national team next year, I would like to compete six events for the team, and I don't want to have any mistake in any situation," he warned.

"We also have to think about Tokyo 2020 (Olympics), and about how we can win there."