Artistic Gymnastics

Uchimura Kohei aims to end 2020 on a high

Rio 2016 all-around Olympic champion intends to show that he is now a horizontal bar specialist at All-Japan Championships.

By Shintaro Kano ·

Uchimura Kohei has disappointing news for fans hoping he might return to the all-around.

Despite performing on four apparatus at last month's Friendship and Solidarity Competition in Tokyo, the three-time Olympic gold medallist insists he is focusing on the horizontal bar in Gunma Prefecture's Takasaki Arena.

And he claims he could be even better as a specialist in artistic gymnastics ahead of the All-Japan Championships with the men's preliminaries starting on Friday (10 December).

Speaking at a virtual news conference on Thursday, Uchimura said, "I haven’t been too pleased with how I did in the first two competitions this season. It’s about time I performed the way I know I can."

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The revival

Uchimura has had a turbulent year with the 10-time world champion in danger of not qualifying for Tokyo 2020.

But, after the Games were postponed, he came back in September as a horizontal bar specialist.

Thursday was the first time Uchimura spoke publicly since his impassioned speech at the Friendship and Solidarity Competition urging Japan to unite for the Games despite the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

"So many things happened this year," the 31-year-old said. "It went from not knowing when I could compete again to coming back at the Seniors and then the international competition the other day.

"I’m just grateful to be here. This will be my third competition of the season and I feel real joy to be participating."

His plan is to prepare in a similar manner to last month for the horizontal bar, by warming up for and competing in five other events.

Uchimura said he made an important discovery there, in contrast to going straight into the horizontal bar at September's All-Japan Senior Championships where he finished sixth.

His score at the Friendship and Solidarity was a competition-high 15.200 which would have been good enough for gold at the 2019 World Championships.

He said, "After doing four events at the international competition, I realised I’m an all-arounder at heart even though I’m focusing on the horizontal bar now.

"When I jump into the horizontal bar, not all the muscles in my body are switched on. At the end of the day, gymnastics is the ultimate all-body exercise. Whatever the apparatus, I think you have to stimulate every part of your body to be effective. That’s what I’ve come to realise.

"For me, the best way to get the right feel for the horizontal bar is through the other apparatus. I've learned it's what works for me."

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Perfecting his craft

Uchimura is locked in on two aspects of his routine this weekend: the Bretschneider - a double somersault with double twist - and his landing.

Joining Uchimura this weekend will be some of Japan's brightest up-and-coming stars like Kitazono Takeru, Kaya Kazuma, Miyachi Hidetaka and the Tanigawa brothers, Wataru and Kakeru.

"I really want to get the Bretschneider right and that’s where my focus is," Uchimura said. "Points wise, it wasn’t too bad at the Friendship and Solidarity but I wasn’t happy with my performance. I want to execute what I'm visualising.

"Basically at this competition, I want to work on the catch and the landing on the Bretschneider. I’m not thinking about the score because that will come if you do what you’re supposed to do.

"Physically, I feel a lot better because it’s my third competition back but feeling fit and translating that into a good performance are two entirely different things. Everything will be an experiment until next year."