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Uchimura's Olympic-ending fall clouds bright start for Japanese gymnasts

·3-min read

Japanese gymnastics star Kohei Uchimura crashed out of the Tokyo Games on day one Saturday when he was eliminated from the horizontal bar competition to dash his dream of ending his decorated career with a fourth Olympic gold.

The all-around 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion's crash landing stole unwanted headlines in a men's qualifying session where Japan kept China and Russia at bay ahead of Monday's defence of their team title.

Uchimura, part of that gold-medal winning unit in Rio, lost his grip during his routine and failed to qualify for next week's final.

"In the last three Olympic Games I've been able to match the level of performance I'd reached in training -- but not this time," a dejected Uchimura said.

"I think I've reached my peak, even getting selected for the Japanese team was hard enough this time."

He left the door open for one more shot at going out on a high -- the world championships are in Japan in October -- when he suggested: "It may not be my last competition."

"Let me think about it when I go back tonight," he told media after the sad turn of events witnessed by 12,000 empty seats at the Ariake Centre.

The 32-year-old chose not to go for a third successive all-around title following persistent shoulder problems.

And he revealed: "I was at the lowest of the low when I was injured so I can't be that disappointed now."

Regarded as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, "King Kohei" also has 10 world titles.

He was penalised for his fall, picking up just 13.866 points, robbing him of the chance to end his career in style on home soil.

After his premature return to earth from the 2.8 metres-high bar, Uchimura was provided with the perfect antidote to his misfortune by his compatriots - Olympic debutants all.

- 'I wasn't needed' -

But while hailing their "great" performance he noted wistfully: "After I finished the horizontal bar and came back to the arena to watch, I saw them sorting out their problems on their own. I felt I wasn't needed anymore."

After scraping through to get onto the Japanese team, Uchimura had been revelling in competing at the pandemic-delayed 2020 Games.

After training this week he said: "I love it, especially because it's in Japan. This is my fourth Olympics, and this is probably the best one yet."

After a challenging routine it all went horribly wrong though when he lost his grip, crashing to the mattress and walking off the Olympic stage for the last time.

He had etched his name into Olympic history at the Rio Games in 2016, becoming the first male gymnast in 44 years to retain his all-around title.

And leading Japan to the team gold in Brazil cemented his place as one of his country's most revered athletes.

Uchimura has struggled with injuries since Rio, rating his prospect of making it to Tokyo "a fairytale" in 2019.

The gymnast, who recently described himself as "an ancient fossil" in relation to his younger teammates, had taken radical action, dropping every event but the horizontal bar -- he was a surprise late entry for the parallel bars but did not take up the option.

Another gold medallist from the 2016 Games enjoyed a far more positive day, with Greece's master of the Rio rings Eleftherios Petrounias leading the eight progressing to the final with 15.333 points, China's Yang Liu in second on 15.300.

Britain's pommel horse champion Max Whitlock is placed fifth behind Taiwan's Lee Chih-kai and Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland.

A breathless day's qualifying ended on a heartwarming note when France's Samir Ait Said, who suffered a horrific leg break on the vault in Rio, returned to qualify third on the rings.

Sunday sees Simone Biles set out on her five-gold medal quest in women's qualifying.

nr/th/jc

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