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Friday, Aug. 3, 2012

Uchimura captures all-around gold

Three-time world champion adds Olympic title to resume


Staff writer

LONDON — Kohei Uchimura doesn't punch in on a company time clock to begin his workday. Instead, the Nagasaki Prefecture native dons a gymnast's uniform, and like iconic painters Pablo Picasso, El Greco, et al, his daily existence is focused on producing a masterpiece.

News photo
Golden form: Kohei Uchimura performs on the rings during the men's all-around final on Wednesday night. Uchimura won the gold medal with a score of 92.690 points. AFP-JIJI

For the masses to see, there may not be a picture of Uchimura's work on a daily basis, but the results are indicative of his masterful skills.

Of course, it's a different kind of art, with a different kind of canvas. Six items are required: a mat for the floor exercise, as well as the pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bars.

On Wednesday, Uchimura delivered an exceptional exhibition of artistry, athleticism, graceful timing and overall brilliance at North Greenwich Arena. His combined effort in the aforementioned six disciplines was too much for his 23 foes to compete with.

Uchimura scored 92.690 points to capture the men's all-around gymnastics gold medal. Germany's Marcel Nguyen placed second in 91.031 and Danell Leyva of the United States finished third in 90.698. Kazuhito Tanaka took sixth overall in 89.407.

The 23-year-old Uchimura earned world titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011 following his silver medal-winning effort at the 2008 Beijing Games. He also led Japan to a team runnerup finish behind China at the 2008 Olympics and again on Monday.

Uchimura became Japan's first artistic gymnastics all-around champ since Koji Gushiken grabbed the gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

One British reporter noted that there were signs in Japanese spotted in the crowd, urging Uchimura to "give us hope, give us courage and make us smile," indeed significant themes at sporting events at home and abroad after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. He nodded and responded to the journalist's observation by saying, "Well, I'm so thankful and grateful. It's not only my ability, but because of all the support I receive, so I want to thank all the people for their support."

Will he pursue a second all-around gold at the 2016 Rio Summer Games?

Perhaps.

"Rio is a vision I have in mind. I want to challenge myself to the limit," the 161-cm Uchimura told reporters.

While the complexity of Uchimura's routine produced numerous wow moments — and jaw-dropping appearances were not an uncommon sight in the audience — the subtle layers of difficulty that outline his in-the-gym oeuvre and the years of work all paid off as Uchimura completed his mission to become an Olympic champion.

"I have been aiming for this for a long time, and now I have achieved it," he said with conviction. "It's a dream.

"I have been world champion in the all-around three times in a row, but this is a different feeling. The Olympics are only once in four years so I have been waiting for this moment."

In reality, the outcome was never in doubt. Uchimura's precise, complex but muscular techniques, elaborate elegance and consistency were key elements to his wonderful performance. No other gymnast scored 15 or more points in each portion of the all-around final.

Here's Uchimura's points breakdown:

Floor exercise — 15.100 points

Pommel horse — 15.066 (his starting point for his day's work)

Rings — 15.333

Vault — 16.266 (top individual apparatus for all competitors in any event on the day)

Parallel bars — 15.325

Horizontal bar — 15.600

Add those numbers up and this is what you get: a gold medal-winning effort that validated what the overwhelming majority of experts within the gymnastics community already consider absolute truth.

Like many, Andreas Hirsch, Germany's coach, is in awe of Uchimura and all he's accomplished over the past several years.

"He lives in a different world," Hirsch said. "He was no part of the competition, he has his own barricades."

Uchimura's first lessons in the sport began at the tender age of 3 in Isahaya, Nagasaki Prefecture, a small town not far from the prefectural capital, where his parents operate a gymnastics school.

In an interview with the vernacular Asahi Shimbun before the Olympics, Uchimura admitted that the sport suits him well due to his embracing a pursuit of perfection.

"The most appealing thing about gymnastics is that no matter how perfect a performance you aim for, you can't ever be perfect," Uchimura said.

"People feel that the movement of a twist should start on the side that gets twisted in," he told the national newspaper. "But my mother (Shuko) told me at a young age to do it from the side that pulls the body into a twist. I still use that knowledge today."

For Uchimura, mother knows best. He also humbly recognizes he's a once-in-generation athlete in this sport.

"In my experience, I am an ideal athlete for artistic gymnastics," he said. "I have a vision for how I can compete, play and practice. I want to establish something I can express."

The German silver medalist shared Uchimura's joy by securing a spot for the victory ceremony.

"It's amazing, it's a dream come true," said Nguyen. "I had a difficult start. I started on the pommel horse and that's my weakest event, but it went better from apparatus to apparatus."

As the medal ceremony commenced and the "Chariots of Fire" tune played, Uchimura clapped, raised his right hand and waved to fans.

Leyva, the bronze medalist, meanwhile, believes that the key to Uchimura's success is anything but a simple riddle.

"If we knew, we'd all be on his level," Leyva said. "I like that he's up there. That's what I need to go for."

Uchimura looked rusty, however, during the qualifying and entered the final in ninth place.

It didn't matter. He elevated his game when the results mattered most. Starting with the pommel horse, he nailed his routine with breathtaking ease before moving on to the other five apparatuses. He pulled ahead for good on the third of six rotations (apparatus assignments), delivering a spectacular effort on the vault and building a gap between him and the rest of the competitors that was too much for all of them to overcome.



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