TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Kohei Uchimura lost the first competition he ever entered but at the Rio Olympics he will be the man to beat as he aims to become the first gymnast in 44 years to win back-to-back all-around golds.
Even so, he claims the results don’t matter that much.
“I don’t do gymnastics to win or lose,” he told Reuters in an interview earlier this year.
“I think it’s all about what you want to convey with gymnastics. Winning or losing doesn’t matter.”
Since taking silver at the 2008 Beijing Games, the 27-year-old has scooped every Olympic and world all-around title and is now favorite to become the first man to take two Olympic golds in a row since compatriot Sawao Kato in 1972.
Holder of a record six world all around golds and 19 world medals altogether, Uchimura, the son of two gymnasts, took up the sport aged three.
Training at a gym they founded in southwestern Japan, he honed his skills in the air on a trampoline they acquired from the United States. Almost a quarter of a century later, he has not lost any of his hard work ethic.
“I don’t do anything special, I basically think it’s just building on every day. How much can I do earnestly every day,” the soft-spoken Uchimura said.
“I don’t think I’ve goofed off even once.”
Although he takes two days off a week to spend time at home, even in his sleep he cannot escape the sport.
“It all depends on which routine I dream about,” he said. “Sometimes they’re really bad dreams, sometimes they’re really good.”
At last year’s world championships in Glasgow, Uchimura proudly held up six fingers to celebrate capturing a record sixth successive all around title.
However, it was landing the team gold -- the first for Japan following a 37-year drought at the worlds -- that is spurring on his run to Rio.
Japan took team gold at five successive Olympics from 1960 to 1976 but had to wait until Athens in 2004 to reach the top of the podium again.
Since then Asian rivals China bagged the team golds in 2008 and 2012 but slipped up at the worlds in Glasgow with uncharacteristic errors.
Japan’s performance was also far from perfect as Uchimura suffered a crash-landing from the horizontal bar.
“I feel the individual all-around isn’t something I should even think about until after the team event,” Uchimura said. “All I can think about is how much I want team gold. That’s everything.”
With Tokyo hosting the next summer Olympics in 2020, Japanese fans would like nothing better than to see their hero continue for another four years but as of now, Uchimura’s post-Rio plans are unknown.
He is married to a non-gymnast he met at university and has two small daughters. Despite all his success in the sport, Uchimura said he did not want them to be elite gymnasts.
”If they were boys I think I probably would,“ he said. ”But I don’t understand women’s gymnastics and I think it’s much more severe.
“I only see the hard parts. Kids only see the fun parts.”
Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Pritha Sarkar