Takeru Kitazono: The new Uchimura?

Five star YOG performance from the Japanese gymnast draws legendary comparison

Takeru Kitazono chalking his hands (Joel Marklund/OIS)

Takeru Kitazono was being billed as the future of Japanese artistic gymnastics heading into the Youth Olympic Games.

His performances in Buenos Aires have only added to the belief that he could become the successor to the great Kohei Uchimura.

Kitazono claimed five gold medals at the Youth Olympics - unsurpassable in the all-around, floor exercise, rings, parallel bars and high bar apparatus.

So just who is the diminutive teenager?

Osaka origin

Kitazono was born on the 21st October 2002 in Japan's third biggest city of Osaka.

He first became interested in gymnastics at three years old, when he discovered a gymnastics club near to his house.

His mum enrolled him in some classes and from there, his passion soon blossomed.

It was not long before Kitazono started impressing at national and international level.

But 2018 has seen the 15-year-old fully flourish: first becoming Japan Junior champion before his golden moments in Buenos Aires.

Takeru Kitazono on Parallel Bars at YOG (Joel Marklund/OIS)

Injury worry

His experience in Argentina has been an incredible coming of age.

But Kitazono's journey to YOG was not exactly straight forward.

An injury sustained in training last year almost derailed his plans completely.

“I fractured my ankle after a bad landing during training in 2017,” the young star explained to olympic.org.

"I was still struggling with it at our national trials for the Youth Olympic Games, but it feels better now."

Emphatic answer

His gold rush began with an emphatic victory in the all around competition, finishing well clear of Russia's Sergei Naidin with Diogo Soares of Brazil third.

Kitazono was equally untouchable in the men's floor exercise final, this time finishing clear of Hungary's Krisztian Balazs.

Perhaps his only disappointment came in the Pommel Horse competition, where he had to settle for sixth.

However, it did not take long for the Japanese prodigy to bounce back to the top of the podium.

In a closely contested rings final, Kitazono prevailed ahead of Canada's Felix Dolci.

Takeru Kitazono on rings (Lukas Schulze/OIS)

He then started the final day of gymnastics competition by winning his fourth gold medal in the parallel bars.

In a thoroughly dominant performance, Kitazono came out way ahead of China's Yin Dehang.

An amazing fifth gold was added in style on the horizontal bars.

It did not take long before references to his illustrious counterpart Kohei Uchimura began to spring forth once more.

Kohei Uchimura: still the king?

King-sized comparison

The Youth Olympic Games were not the first time Kitazono has drawn comparisons to 'King Kohei'.

But the upcoming prince has a big task if he is to wear Uchimura's crown.

Now 29-years old, Uchimura is regarded as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time.

A triple Olympic champion and ten times World champion, he is a true giant of the sport.

But his rivals are coming up fast.

His reign as World all-around champion - which started in 2009 - came to an end last year after he suffered an ankle injury during the tournament.

That enabled China's Xiao Ruoteng to halt his winning streak.

Uchimura's close friend Kenzo Shirai - 'The Twist Prince' - is also hot on the heels of his mentor.

Now comes the latest challenger.

Before he took part in competition in Buenos Aires, Kitazono boldly stated:

If I can win at the Youth Olympic Games, I can do it in Tokyo 2020.

The first part of his target has been accomplished.

But can he unseat King Kohei from his throne in two year's time?


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