Uchimura's Exit Leaves Void and Opportunity
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Mark October 2 as the day the air escaped from the 2017 World Championships all-around competition for men. Like a balloon that had grown larger since 2009, when Kohei Uchimura won his first of six straight world all-around titles, it suddenly burst when he landed his vault a bit low, the rubber remnants disappearing into the blackness of the arena.


Kohei Uchimura (Japan)

On his second event in qualifications, Uchimura performed a roundoff half-on to the table, front layout with 2.5 twists (Li Xiaopeng), a vault that lacked his usual amplitude. Still, he presented himself to the judges and then limped off the podium on a tender left ankle.

"I had to twist after failing to reach high enough," the 28-year-old Uchimura told The Japan News. “That led to the injury. I accept that it’s over now.”

No tantrum accompanied his exit. No over-the-top reaction. Just a blank gaze of disappointment.

Uchimura, who grew up in his parents' gym in Nagasaki, gamely competed in the third rotation on parallel bars, but the routine lacked his usual crispness. A few bent arms and another painful landing after his double pike dismount. An anti-climactic end to a streak that may never be matched. Let's not forget that he also won the all-around titles at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He's undefeated during the last eight years.

Uchimura's goal, however, was never to go on such a lengthy winning streak in the all-around. His primary mission was always to the win the team title, which continued to escape him until the 2015 Worlds in Glasgow. The most crushing loss came the year before in Nanning, China, when the host team won by 0.1. Uchimura's dream came true again in Rio, where Japan won its first Olympic team gold since the 2004 Athens Games.

It was only fitting that Russia and China, silver and bronze medalists, respectively, in Rio, were in the same qualifying session as Japan. Canada was there too, which certainly brought more fans to witness a different shade of history.

Manrique Larduet leads the all-around standings. The Cuban talent can feel Uchimura's pain, though. He suffered a similar injury in Rio, where he only did rings and vault in the all-around final and placed last.

Xiao Ruoteng of China and David Belyavsky of Russia sit in second and third, respectively, while Kenzo Shirai, Uchimura's teammate, lurks in fourth. Oleg Vernyayev of Ukraine, who placed second to King Kohei in Rio by less than 0.1, had an off day to place fifth. He's followed by Lin Chaopan of China, who placed fifth in Rio, while U.S. champion Yul Moldauer finished seventh.

Just as in the women's all-around, a new men's champion will be crowned in Montreal. Question is, Who's willing to go out there and grab it?

It is difficult to measure the vast void Uchimura leaves. He could return at the 2018 Worlds in Doha, Qatar, and most likely will. He's a gym rat, after all.

The streak, of course, will stay home.

 

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