10 questions: Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura21/04/2017
His legend rolls on.
Eight months removed from his second consecutive Olympic All-around title, Kohei Uchimura made his grand return to competition at last week’s Japanese Championships, where he won the meet for the 10th time in a row, shattering his own record for consecutive national titles.
But the six-time World champion’s path to victory was not as apparent as the results make it seem. In fourth place after the preliminaries, Uchimura had to marshal all his strength and experience to attain the summit of the medal podium. Although far from his standard of perfection, he was still 0.05 better than Olympic teammate Yusuke Tanaka.
“When I finished the preliminary round I really wanted to apologize to the people who were supporting me, because I hadn’t been in a competition for a long time,” Uchimura said, addressing the press after the competition. “But I think also now that it was good to have been cornered and to have been able to overcome this bad situation. The younger generations will become stronger and stronger, and I want to be an example for them.”
Below is an edited Q and A of Uchimura’s remarks from the press conference following the competition, posted on Taisou-Nippon, the official page of the Japanese Gymnastics Association. The full text, in Japanese, can be read here.
Q: How would you assess your performance at this competition?
Uchimura: “In a word, it was very hard. I was not able to give really perfect performances and when I finished the last event, High Bar, I told myself, ‘I acknowledge my defeat. I have no regrets’ just as in the All-around at the Rio Olympic Games. I told myself, it will be better if I lose.”
Q: What was your strategy for the final?
Uchimura: “My strategy for the final was to cover the error I made during the preliminary round. Because I was sure to give a faultless performance. I didn’t wait for Yusuke and the young gymnasts to go up, I knew it without looking at the scoreboard, and thanks to this tension I recovered my feel for the competition. In the end it was good.”
Q: With this result, did you take pleasure in the competition?
Uchimura: “When I finished the preliminary round I really wanted to apologize to the people who were supporting me, because I hadn’t been in a competition for a long time, the rules had changed. But when I woke up this morning, I felt very good and capable of concentrating on my performances. I went to the competition arena hoping to show my performances as they usually are. The first half of my performances were good and I regret the second half. However, I recaptured the feel for competition today, and the performances of the younger generations, which have gotten better, were a good stimulant for me.”
Q: What did your coach, who has supported you at the moment when you were at your lowest, tell you after the preliminary round?
Uchimura: “He told me, ‘I thought it would happen like this, because you have not participated in a competition for a long time.’ I thought, ‘Oh, all right.’ And he said calmly, ‘What you have already done once in the preliminaries, you can manage again for the final.’ I was angry at myself because of the results from the preliminary round, because I was not in bad shape, and I had prepared myself for the competition. I did not want to take having been away from competition as an excuse, but when he said ‘I thought it would happen this way,’ that took me in a good direction, and he was right.”
Q: What has this championship, which is different from before, brought you?
Uchimura: “Since I have won once again in this situation, I must continue to rise to people’s expectations. If I had lost, I would have said to myself, 'finally, I’ve lost' and this defeat would have allowed me to begin again to perform better. But I think also now that it was good to have been cornered and to have been able to overcome this bad situation. The younger generations will become stronger and stronger, and I want to be an example for them.”
Q: After the fifth event, how were you feeling, knowing that the young gymnasts behind you had risen in the rankings? Were you confident in your performance on High Bar?
Uchimura: “It reminded me of the individual All-around competition at the Olympic Games in Rio. I had to turn the situation around and also, because the composition of my routine was the same as in Rio, I wanted to do the same, but fatigue won out…I couldn’t reproduce the same tension inside of myself.”
Q: Was your fatigue the result of not competing for awhile, or how you prepared?
Uchimura: “I think there are a lot of reasons. First of all, although I did recapture those competitive feelings; it’s been a long time since I’ve felt my body so tired during a competition, and that came out on High Bar, I think. One must really be concentrated on High Bar again, fifth event, during the All-around. Since Kenta Chiba, who was before me, made mistakes, I told myself that everyone made mistakes during the fifth event and I must not, but I could not vanquish my fatigue.”
Q: You said that it would be better if you lost. Have you assumed a heavy responsibility?
Uchimura: “As I was not able to show perfect performances, I am not satisfied with the win. This time it was not the same situation as usual when I say, ‘If I am as usual, the result will follow.’ I did not particularly want to win the championships 10 times in a row. As I was not as usual today, it seemed like all there was left to do was give up.”
Q: Don’t you take any satisfaction even so in winning the competition?
Uchimura: “No, I did not. Yusuke Tanaka performed very well and I believe that the new rules are made for Yusuke and thanks to these rules, Yusuke can win a lot of points. As Yusuke performed on Parallel Bars just as well as he did on High Bar, I believed that I had lost to him.”
Q: Do you think that the younger generations have become better, but have not yet reached your level ?
Uchimura: “No, all the gymnasts of the same group except Kenzo Shirai made mistakes. If they hadn’t done so, I don’t know what the results would have turned out. There are good gymnasts and they are eight years younger than I am. I am eight years younger than (2005 World champion Hiroyuki) Tomita. We say that every eight years great gymnasts arrive and this is true and I hope that they will become stronger and that they will easily surpass my level.”