Artistic Gymnastics

All hail the King: Uchimura Kohei scores 15.700 points on horizontal bar

Three-time Olympic champion in gold medal mode at All-Japan Champs as Kaya Kazuma holds off youngster Kitazono Takeru to win all-around title.

By Shintaro Kano ·

After a brilliant 15.553 points in horizontal bar qualification on Friday (11 December), Uchimura Kohei wasn't sure if he could top it in the final.

It turns out he could.

The artistic gymnastics all arounder-turned specialist earned an incredible 15.700 on the closing day of the All-Japan Championships.

For comparison, Arthur Nory's winning score at last year's World Championships was 14.900.

The three-time Olympic gold medallist said, "This was my third competition doing only the horizontal bar. I think I'm starting to get it.

"I wanted to perform the way I'm capable of performing here and I think I did that.

"This was my first All-Japans to only do one event and it made for good experience looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics."

Kaya Kazuma held on to his preliminary lead for his first all-around title with a total of 173.764 over high school student Kitazono Takeru (173.262) and two-time defending champion Tanigawa Kakeru (173.096).

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A regal performance

As gripping as the all-around battle was, the greatness of Uchimura simply overshadowed proceedings.

Two days ago, Uchimura slightly skipped on the landing - something the perfectionist bemoaned when speaking to the media - but this time, he got it right.

After swiftly executing the Bretschneider - the catch after a double somersault with double twist - Uchimura spotted his landing perfectly and looked up with a huge smile on his face.

Uchimura, who turns 32 next month, could hardly contain his enthusiasm as he pumped both fists and urged the crowd inside Takasaki Arena to cheer louder.

He won by almost a whole point from runner-up Kitamura Fumiya (14.766).

Sunday's feat was all the more impressive considering how far Uchimura has come in such a short space of time.

Back in the spring, the six-time world champion was struggling so badly with his shoulder that there was a good chance he might not even qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

But having deciding not to defend his Olympic all-around title, Uchimura's condition began to improve although no one could have predicted he would hit gold-medal form this quickly.

These All-Japans were the first time he went through qualifying and the final in a competition since the 2018 World Championships in Doha.

And in a warning to his rivals, Uchimura believes he still has room for improvement.

He said, "I need to upgrade the degree of difficulty. I have to thank the judges for giving me such a nice score.

"But I'm not in this for points. I want to perform with beauty, I want people to enjoy the gymnastics I practice.

"Honestly, I don't think I'm even on the starting blocks yet. It's not the time to celebrate yet. I want to get back to practice right away and be ready for next year."

The next Uchimura?

Kitazono Takeru became the first high school student to reach the podium at these championships.

The 18-year-old, who is being tipped by some to be Uchimura's successor, shot up from seventh in qualifying to snare silver although he was disappointed not to take gold.

"My goal here was to win but I made a couple of mistakes in the preliminaries and that cost me in the end," he said.

"Winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics has been my goal all long and it's how I've maintained my motivation all year.

"I want to make the team no matter what. This is just the beginning."

In other apparatus finals, Minami Kazuki won the floor (15.600), Ichiguchi Yamato the pommel horse (15.233) and Nagano Takuya the rings (15.100).

Yonekura Hidenobu took the vault (15.133) and Tanigawa Wataru, the elder of the Tanigawa brothers, claimed victory in the parallel bars (15.000).