Shirai and teammates step up to help recovering Uchimura

With Kohei Uchimura out of individual all-around, his teammates are ready to lead the team.

As Kohei Uchimura finds his form in Doha at the 2018 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, his Japanese teammates are stepping up to defend the team gold medal they captured at the 2015 worlds.

“The younger ones are doing a very good job and have kind of started leading the team,” the 29-year-old said. “I feel like it’s happening naturally.”

Their goal is clear: “The most important thing is to win as a team,” Uchimura said on Monday (22 October) after training.

Kohei Uchimura of Japan competes in the Men's Horizontal Bar Qualification during day two of the 2018 FIG World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Kohei Uchimura of Japan competes in the Men's Horizontal Bar Qualification during day two of the 2018 FIG World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)Kohei Uchimura of Japan competes in the Men's Horizontal Bar Qualification during day two of the 2018 FIG World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Individual success comes second

He echoed those feelings after competing for the first time in Doha four days later when asked about his aspirations for the horizontal bar final.

“I am actually not thinking about high bar,” he said, despite finishing top of the qualifying standings on that event. “Nothing. I am thinking about the team finals right now.”

Japan’s team success in 2015, which they followed up with Rio 2016 Olympic gold, came after China won 10 of the 12 available World titles from 1994 to 2015, including a string of six (2003-2014). China also won back-to-back Olympic titles in 2008 and 2012.

There was no team competition at the 2017 World Championships, where Uchimura withdrew from the competition after a bad landing on the vault.

His absence was felt as the Japanese men claimed just three medals. By comparison, they won seven at the 2013 Worlds where Uchimura added four medals on his own.

Kenzo Shirai on his roommate Kohei Uchimura

Kenzo Shirai on his roommate Kohei Uchimura

Roommate returns the favour

World floor and vault champion Kenzo Shirai, who is sharing a room with Uchimura during in Qatar, has watched the six-time World all-around champion try to recover from an ankle injury sustained late in September.

Shirai, a teammate of Uchimura's on the 2015 World and 2016 Olympic champion teams, says the latter has done everything he can to get back to fitness.

“He’s been very carefully taking care of his sleeping and his eating,” Shirai said. “So, I wanted to give him back a good performance.”

He did just that. Shirai qualified second on the floor exercise, seventh on vault and sixth in the all-around standings. He also rescued the team after three falls in a row, including one from Uchimura, on the pommel horse in the final rotation.

"I was feeling that if I fell, it will keep going until the finals," Shirai said. "I really, really wanted to stop that flow, so I worked hard on the pommels today."

And how does he rate the greatest male gymnast of all time as a roommate?

“Kind,” Shirai said in English, before adding in Japanese, “He always sleeps first before I do. He’s just out.

“One minute, two minutes, yeah – sorry,” Shirai said again in English with a laugh.

“Kohei asked me something and when I answered, he was already asleep.”

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