Uchimura rises to golden occasion

Top: Japan's Kohei Uchimura performing on the rings, setting his country on their way to gold in the artistic gymnastics team final at the Rio Olympic Arena. Left: The victorious Japanese team celebrating clinching their gold medal, and in doing so,
Japan's Kohei Uchimura performing on the rings, setting his country on their way to gold in the artistic gymnastics team final at the Rio Olympic Arena. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Top: Japan's Kohei Uchimura performing on the rings, setting his country on their way to gold in the artistic gymnastics team final at the Rio Olympic Arena. Left: The victorious Japanese team celebrating clinching their gold medal, and in doing so,
The victorious Japanese team celebrating clinching their gold medal, and in doing so, breaking Asian rivals China's eight-year stranglehold on the team event.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Reigning all-around world champion lands Japan their first Olympic team gold in eight years

RIO DE JANEIRO • "King Kohei" Uchimura had just led Japan to the team gold but the gymnast was already plotting their title defence for their home Olympics in 2020.

The 27-year-old looked more exhausted than elated as he walked off the floor after sealing Japan's first Olympic team gold since 2004, and finally completing his own vast collection of titles.

Japan finally got their much-coveted team gold after settling for silver in 2008 and 2012 behind China.

But the athlete known for his iron discipline and robotic control, which have already given him one Olympic all-around and 10 world titles has more in the tank.

His all-around title defence takes place tomorrow and with the floor final yet to come, he could yet increase his Olympic medal tally to eight.

Then there is also Tokyo 2020 to think about. "The next Olympics is in 2020 in Tokyo so I believe that we can win again," said the six-time world all-around champion.

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    Kohei Uchimura, the defending all-around champion, took on all six apparatus in the team final. He was ranked in the top 10 for four: • Floor - 2nd (15.600) • Vault - 3rd (15.566) • Horizontal bar - 4th (15.166) • Pommel horse - 5th (15.100).

In addition, the athlete from Isahaya also wants to boost gymnastics in his country. "By winning team gold, I hope that people will know not just me and Kenzo (Shirai) but the others too," he said of team-mates Koji Yamamuro, Yusuke Tanaka and Ryohei Kato.

Uchimura had put Japan on course for gold by leading off the pommel horse, even after Yamamuro fell off the apparatus.

That score of 13.900 was their only blip as they put in a commanding performance on the remaining five pieces of apparatus to win gold. Japan's total of 274.094 was more than two points ahead of Russia (271.453) who took the silver, with China (271.122) settling for bronze.

The Japanese pulled ahead of the Russians with a 0.208 lead going into their final rotation on the floor, which Uchimura sealed with a solid if unspectacular routine.

"It was tough. We were close to taking gold and I didn't have to think about it," he said. "I just wanted to maintain my stamina. My first emotion was just exhaustion.

"I wanted to win gold. The Olympic Games only come every four years and you have to maintain a good condition to win a medal."

China, who topped qualifying, had obviously saved their mistakes for the final. Their failure to stick landings meant their hopes of completing a hat-trick of Olympic titles was over long before their final three competitors had mounted the horizontal bar.

The Chinese team of Lin Chaopan, Deng Shudi, Zhang Chenglong, Liu Yang and You Hao sat back dejectedly in their chairs after Russia pipped them by 0.331 point to the silver, with Zhang breaking down in tears afterwards.

But the only member of the 2012 gold-winning team later paid tribute to their rivals, saying: "We have to be happy for Japan because every athlete wants to be the best. Team gold is the most important and precious for us Chinese because everyone has to be excellent. You have to be solid and united."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Uchimura rises to golden occasion'. Print Edition | Subscribe