MONTREAL • Kohei Uchimura's eight-year reign as the undisputed king of gymnastics came to a dramatic end on Monday after the hobbling Japanese star was eliminated during qualifiers at the World Championships.
The reigning Olympic champion, chasing a remarkable seventh straight individual all-around title in Montreal, saw his hopes end after the vault rotation.
After a superb jump, the 28-year-old could be seen clutching his left ankle and was in visible discomfort as he limped away from the podium. He continued bravely, grimacing through the parallel bars routine but stumbled badly on his landing, clearly struggling with his lower leg.
The two-time Olympic champion then scratched from the horizontal high bar, ending his attempted defence of a title he had held since triumphing at the 2009 World Championships in London.
"I feel very sorry for the people who came to support me," Uchimura told NBC Sports.
"I apologise to my team-mates. After the vault, I couldn't even walk," he added. "I just wanted to keep trying to finish the competition."
He was later seen on crutches as he supported his Japan team-mates.
He had foreshadowed his sad exit on the eve of the championships, admitting that after nearly a decade at the pinnacle of his sport, he was finding it increasingly harder to arrive in peak form.
"When I participated at the World Championships for the first time, I was 20 years old, and I'm 28 now and at my seventh Worlds. So the question of age is a new element," he had said.
"With age, one loses some muscle tone and also makes mistakes in complicated routines. Maintaining strength and muscle tone requires a completely different kind of preparation beforehand," added Uchimura, who took up the sport at the age of three under the guidance of his parents, who were both competitive gymnasts.
The Japanese star will now turn his attention to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. He has already hinted he may prefer to concentrate on one or two disciplines rather than another all-around title.
With Uchimura out of the reckoning, the leading qualifier for the all-around title which will be settled tomorrow is Cuba's Manrique Larduet, with 86.699.
Uchimura's great rival Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine - who came within a whisker of beating the Japanese star at last year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics - was second with a total of 85.431.
Uchimura's exit on Monday also further deprives these championships of star power. The women's competition is already missing the undisputed queen of the sport, Simone Biles of the United States. She has taken a year-long sabbatical following her victory at the Rio Games.