22 October, 2015

Kohei Uchimura: The perpetual quest for perfection

Doha (QAT), AGU Office, October 22, 2015: Those who have had the honor of standing on the medal podium with Kohei Uchimura describe him as “the Bolt of Gymastics,” “Superman,” “King Kohei” or — in the most positive sense — “a monster.” With five consecutive World All-around titles, the Japanese maestro could also simply be called the best male gymnast of all time.
But beyond the incredible All-around domination which has landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records, Uchimura is fascinating for his perpetual quest for perfection, the Holy Grail of Gymnastics. If some in this era have chosen to perform a higher level of difficulty at the expense of good execution, Uchimura returns Men’s Artistic Gymnastics to all its nobility.
This quest for perfection began at a young age. Uchimura’s father Kazuhisa, himself a former gymnast, taught three-year-old Kohei his first skills at his own club in Nagasaki. At 15, Uchimura left his family to train in Tokyo alongside his idol Naoya Tsukahara, a key member of the gold medal-winning Japanese team at the 2004 Olympic Games. In 2007, while still a teenager, Uchimura took his place on the National team, where he quickly distinguished himself for his strokes of brilliance.
At the Beijing Olympic Games, Uchimura was the youngest of the Japanese Men’s team, but one of its top performers nonetheless. In spite of two falls off the Pommel Horse during the Individual All-around final, he won the silver medal, to go along with the silver earned by the Japanese in the team competition.
It was the following year at the 2009 World Championships in London, in the same arena as the future Olympic Games, that the man with the warm smile and mischievous eyes began his extraordinary domination, winning his first World title by 2.5 points, the same margin that separated second from eighth place.
Although just 1m62, he has looked down on his competition ever since. No injury has managed to derail his path. At the World Championships in Rotterdam in 2010, he defended his World All-around title and earned three additional medals in spite of a shoulder problem.
The year afterward in Tokyo, he competed with pain in his calf, but was such a “machine” that he still defeated his closest rival by more than three points. In taking his third consecutive World All-around title, Uchimura received a two-minute ovation from the spectators in Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium upon completion of his fianl routine. “I thought it was an earthquake. I’ve never received such applause,” he said.
After such a winning streak, gold at the London Olympics seemed preordained, and on his road to Rio, the Olympic champion has shown no sign of struggle in either 2013 or 2014, winning two more World titles with seeming ease.
But if this exceptional gymnast who is especially strong on Floor and Parallel Bars already possesses an impressive collection of medals from the Olympic Games (five, including one gold and four silver) and World Championships (16, including seven gold), one dream that has not yet come to fruition is winning gold with his team at one of the great international competitions. Since 2008, the Chinese men have always managed to surpass the Japanese team at the World Championships and Olympic Games.
Perhaps the Japanese will end up on top one of these years, fulfilling Uchimura’s ultimate wish. For the sake of his daughter, whom he would like to remember seeing him compete among the best, “King Kohei” plans to extend the great Olympic adventure until Tokyo 2020.

FIG Info Media