Kohei Uchimura finishes fifth on return at Japanese Senior Champs

Double Olympic all-around gold medallist back in action after four months out but ends up more than two points behind winner Kazuma Kaya 

By Rory Jiwani

The road to Tokyo 2020 still appears far from smooth for artistic gymnastics star Kohei Uchimura.

Having failed to make Japan's team for the World Championships in Stuttgart, the three-time Olympic gold medallist returned to action after four months out injured at the All Japan Senior Championships in Fukui City.

Cheered on by the crowd, 'King Kohei' made an excellent start to the all-around competition on the floor.

But a fall on the vault left him down on his rivals and he ended up fifth with a total of 83.900, more than two points behind winner Kazuma Kaya's 86.100.

"Before now, I could achieve results without even being aware of it. But now I have to think about things." - Kohei Uchimura talking to NHK

On the comeback trail

The individual all-around champion from London 2012 and Rio 2016 has had a year to forget with pain in both shoulders limiting his competitive appearances.

He was clearly struggling at April's All Japan Individual All-Around Championships before disappointing in May's NHK Cup.

Kohei Uchimura grimaces as he holds his shoulder at the All Japan Individual All-Around Championships in Takasaki on 26 April 2019

Uchimura then missed June's All Japan Apparatus Gymnastics Championships meaning he could not be selected for the Worlds, ending his proud record of going to every World Championships and Olympic Games since 2007.

Before his comeback in Fukui City, the 30-year-old admitted to NHK he "felt a little anxious" two weeks before the event due to his injuries but that he had since practised well.

The early signs were good with Uchimura performing "without fear" and scoring 14.800 for a fine floor routine.

But he suffered a setback with a fall on the vault which saw him marked down to 12.600.

Uchimura also struggled on the rings, scoring 13.450, but enjoyed better performances on the pommel horse (14.400), parallel bars (14.450) and finally the horizontal bar (14.200).

Afterwards, he reflected, "I've been in good shape but, without making excuses, I may have been affected by my injury.

"Even if you perform in training, it's meaningless if you can't do it in competition. Before now, I could achieve results without even being aware of it. But now I have to think about things."

Uchimura's coach Hiroaki Sato was encouraged by his performance saying, "I think he has been able to regain his strength in a short time and his old sharpness has returned. I don't think there's any reason to be downhearted."

Japan Gymnastics general manager Kozo Mizutori said of Uchimura, "He has recovered well in a short time since April's All Japan Championships when he could not qualify. His floor performance was amazing, but I was hoping for better scores given his achievements."

Stuttgart prospects

Without Uchimura and Kenzo Shirai, reigning Olympic team champions Japan will bid to improve on their bronze at last year's World Championships in Doha.

Three of the squad for Stuttgart were in the competition with Kazuma Kaya and Wataru Tanigawa finishing one and two, and Yuya Kamoto down in eighth place.

"Thank you for your support. Next I will do my best at the World Championships." - Kazuma Kaya to his followers on Instagram

Japan's men claimed three individual medals in Doha with Shirai taking floor silver and vault bronze, and Uchimura winning bronze on the horizontal bar.

The women's two individual medals came courtesy of Mai Murakami who is also missing the Worlds and has announced she will retire after Tokyo 2020.