RIO DE JANEIRO • Kohei Uchimura's clumsy slip on the horizontal bar not only shocked fans at the Rio Olympic Arena on Saturday, but also came to represent a horror day for Japan's men's gymnastics team in their efforts to dethrone China as Olympic champions.
Uchimura, winner of six all-around world titles and an Olympic gold, produced a deafening thud after he lost his grip and fell into an ungainly heap on the floor.
Although the 27-year-old got back on the bar to earn 14.300, the fall summed up a poor day for Japan. Four survivors from their 2012 silver-winning squad featured as Japan qualified for the final but were upstaged by their Asian rivals China, the United States and Russia on the opening day of competition.
China were also not perfect with Zhang Chenglong, the only member of the 2012 gold-winning team, slipping off the horizontal bar.
Their overall consistency, however, enabled them to score 270.461 with the US (270.405) and Russia (269.612) just behind. Britain, Brazil, Ukraine and Germany complete the line-up for today's eight-team final.
As reigning world champions, Japan would have been expected to breach the 15-point mark in many of their performances, but instead all they did was produce a succession of botched routines.
Yusuke Tanaka was the first to stumble with 13.366 on the pommel horse, before Ryohei Kato earned 13.966 on rings and Koji Yamamuro sat down and almost rolled off the crash mat following his vault to score 13.200.
Yamamuro (12.733) and Tanaka (13.866) both failed to impress on the parallel bars, while Uchimura's mishap was particularly surprising considering he is the reigning world champion on the apparatus.
It was not until the final floor exercise, that all four Japanese gymnasts scored over 15 points on the same discipline.
The 19-year-old Kenzo Shirai was the only one who did not let the team down but he performed on only the vault and floor.
"I don't think the mistake on the high bar was a bad thing because... what happened today can only make me stronger," said Uchimura, whose fall left him out of the running for the horizontal bar title.
"We try and perform like world champions but this is the Olympic Games and it stresses us out."
Luckily for Japan, none of the scores will be carried through to today's team final. But what they do know is that they cannot afford a repeat performance if they want to end China's eight-year reign as Olympic champions.
Uchimura can take heart from the fact he won the 2012 all-around gold despite finishing ninth in qualifying. He remains the favourite to become the first man since compatriot Sawao Kato in 1972 to win successive Olympic all-around titles.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE