TOKYO (AP) — Kohei Uchimura will be aiming for a measure of redemption when the world championships begin in his hometown this week in what could be a competition finale for one of the greatest male gymnasts of all time.
Stung by the disappointment of not qualifying for the horizontal bar final at the Tokyo Olympics, the 32-year-old Uchimura will be aiming to reclaim the world title on horizontal bar he last won in 2015.
The 50th artistic gymnastics world championships started Monday and will continue through Sunday in Kitakyushu, featuring more than 300 gymnasts representing 59 countries. The first medals will be awarded Thursday in the women’s all-around.
Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee of the United States aren’t taking part but five newly-minted Olympic gold medalists — Daiki Hashimoto of Japan, Rebeca Andrade of Brazil, South Korea’s Shin Jea-hwan and Russians Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova — will give the event star power.
Uchimura is a six-time world all-around champion and a seven-time Olympic medalist. His fall from the horizontal bar at the Tokyo Games was not how he wanted to end his illustrious career.
“I know the word ‘revenge’ will be mentioned,” Uchimura told Japanese online sports site Sponichi Annex. “But to be able to hold the event in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, all I’m feeling is appreciation. So I want to turn in a performance that is full of appreciation.”
Uchimura has been dealing with injuries in recent years and has said in the past that he wouldn't have continued competing if Tokyo hadn't hosted the Olympics.
His main challenger this week will be Hashimoto who, at 19, became the youngest man ever to win the Olympic all-around title at the Tokyo Olympics.
Hashimoto won the gold in the horizontal bar after Uchimura faltered, becoming the new face of the sport in Japan.
“It’s always an honor to compete with Kohei Uchimura in any kind of competition,” Hashimoto said. “Of course, we are teammates, but I’m very excited to compete against him at the world championships, which means we are going to compete for world No. 1.”
Hashimoto will be the clear favorite to take the men’s all-round title. Defending champion Nikita Nagornyy of Russia is not competing. The only man who finished inside the Top 10 in the Tokyo all-around was eighth-place Ahmet Onder of Turkey.
This means there is an opportunity for young gymnasts such as Sergei Naidin of Russia, Ilia Kovtun of Ukraine and Adem Asil of Turkey.
Andrade, who took gold on the women’s vault in Tokyo and silver in the all-around, has elected to perform only on three apparatus this week and will not contend for the all-around title.
She suffered ACL tears in four years between 2015 and 2019.
“I don’t want to be away from competition again due to injury or something like this,” Andrade said. “So I’m listening to my body and what it is asking. I’m here, I’ll be competing. Gymnastics is not only about the floor exercise, even though everyone likes it. I have three other apparatus and I will give my best.”
Andrade’s withdrawal, coupled with Mai Murakami’s decision to only compete in balance beam and floor exercise, leaves the woman’s all-around competition wide open.
Potential title contenders include Tokyo 2020 Olympic all-around bronze medalist Melnikova and compatriot Urazova as well as newcomers Kayla DiCello of the United States and Wei Xiaoyuan of China.
The unusual timing of the event — Kitakyushu is the first gymnastics world championship to be held in an Olympic year since 1996 — provides a unique opportunity for Tokyo Olympians to add to their accomplishments while giving newcomers a chance to win medals on the road to Paris 2024.
Twelve world medals — seven for men and five for women — will be in play this week in Japan.
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