Gymnastics: Icon Kohei Uchimura retires after one-of-a-kind celebratory final

Kohei Uchimura, who won gold medals in the men’s all-around at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, is tossed into the air by fellow gymnasts during his retirement event at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on March 12, 2022. ( Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan’s artistic gymnast great Kohei Uchimura had his last hurray on Saturday, with the 2012 and 2016 Olympic men’s all-around gold medalist retiring after performing at a packed Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Winner of a staggering 40 consecutive all-around tournaments at home and abroad from 2008 to 2017, Uchimura made one final appearance in a unique event dubbed “Kohei Uchimura the Final”, joined by his nine Japanese teammates and a host of about 6,500, including his mother and father.

Uchimura turned back time in his grand final, performing on every apparatus for the first time since August 2019, when injuries to both shoulders forced him to stop competing in the six-apparatus all-around.

A six-time individual all-around world champion, Uchimura announced the event when he told a press conference on January 14 that he would be retiring after a one-time farewell exhibition.

“I really want to thank everyone who has supported me so far,” he said after being tossed six times in the air by other guest gymnasts, including Kenzo Shirai, with whom he won team gold at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. Daiki Hashimoto, Olympic Games and Tokyo Games all-around champion.

“It’s been 30 years since I started gymnastics, and there has only been difficulty. But the joy of winning with my Japanese teammates here, as well as individually, and that of learning new techniques have ended up eclipsing that.”

“My whole body hurts since I finished. Half of me says it was a good decision to retire, the other half says I can still go on.”

Although no score was awarded for the day’s performance, Uchimura was close to his flawless best. He landed the career-defining soft landings on floor exercise, pommel horse and rings as two other gymnasts joined him on each apparatus.

A solid parallel bars routine was sandwiched by a light step on her vault and horizontal bar landings. He did, however, shine once again by nailing a Bretschneider to the horizontal bar, the most difficult move on the apparatus.

At the Tokyo Games, he crashed and had an early exit, as he finished sixth in apparatus at the October world championships, held in his hometown of Kitakyushu, before deciding to make it his career.

“I was too close to the bar with all the release moves, and couldn’t land the landing at the end. That’s why this event was called the final,” Uchimura joked.

“Giving myself a 60 (out of 100), I was made aware again of the exhaustion of competing on six apparatus. It was scary to think I was doing them perfectly.”

“I wanted to keep going forever, but my horizontal bar wasn’t so good at the Olympics and world championships last year, and today too. I felt it was about the right time. .”

It was a fitting step to bow out for a man dubbed the ‘king’ of the sport with fellow 2016 team gold medalists and Japan’s Tokyo 2020 Games gymnasts joining in on the action.

“As long as I live, I will never forget performing together on the horizontal bar in your last performance,” said Hashimoto, 20, the heir to the all-around title of Uchimura, who is expected to lead the artistic gymnastics Japanese in the years to come.

“I realize the size of what you’ve built after seeing the impact your retirement has had on the world of gymnastics at home and abroad. I can’t believe I’m saying those words to anyone. one that I used to watch on TV.”

“We are going to inherit what you have done for us and try to get the team gold in Paris to prove to the world that Japan is the best.”

Shirai, the 25-year-old bronze medalist in vaulting at the Rio Games, retired last June but made a special comeback and electrified the crowd with the twisting techniques that bear his name on floor and horse-jump.

“Thank you for giving everyone dreams, hope and courage,” said Shirai, who was 10 when Uchimura spotted her talent. “What you’re going to do next is fill the hearts of gymnasts and fans with excitement.”

Uchimura, who also won team silver at the 2012 London Games, reiterated his desire to pass on his experience and evolve Japanese artistic gymnastics, promising to stay in the spotlight in a new capacity.

“I saw a lot of people crying, but I’m really positive because I see this not as an end but as a new stage,” said Uchimura, who thanked his parents for giving him his strong body.

“I can still move and I will teach young gymnasts how to pursue techniques in a way that only I can offer… I want to be the one who knows the most about gymnastics. I want to research it, popularize it and increase its value within society.

“I had a happy career as a gymnast.”

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