LONDON – Gold-medal favorite Kohei Uchimura fell on two apparatuses in the men’s gymnastics qualification at the London Olympics on Saturday, but Japan still managed to advance to the team final and Uchimura made it to the all-around individual final.
Japan, the winner at the 2004 Athens Olympics, scored a total of 270.503 points to finish in fifth place despite Uchimura’s uncharacteristic falls in the horizontal bar and the pommel horse that appeared to be contagious to his teammates during the qualifying round at North Greenwich Arena.
The United States topped the team standing with 275.342, followed by Russia and Britain, while defending Olympic and five-time world champion China settled for sixth place after some wobbly performances.
Three-time men’s all-around world champion Uchimura and compatriot Koji Yamamuro made the individual all-around final after finishing ninth and 18th, respectively, in the qualification. American Danell Leyva finished with the highest individual total score of 91.265, followed by Russia’s David Belyavskiy and Germany’s Fabian Hambuchen.
“I am so sorry for all the people supporting me,” Uchimura said of his less-than-stellar routines in the first half of qualifying. “I think I was able to get back into shape in the latter half, but it’s frustrating that I couldn’t do well from the start.”
In the men’s qualification round, four gymnasts from each team compete in each apparatus — floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar — with the top three scores counted toward the team total. The top eight squads advance to the team final, while 24 gymnasts make it to the individual all-around final and eight go through to each of the six apparatus finals.
A maximum of two from each team advances to the individual finals. The scores in the qualifying are not carried over to the finals.
Uchimura issues warning
Japan superstar Kohei Uchimura has told his team-mates not to obsess about Olympic rivals China, after the two Asian powerhouses disappointed in men’s artistic gymnastics qualifying.
Japan and China, the dominant force in Beijing in 2008, had been expected to fight it out for the major honors in London, but they were eclipsed by the United States, Russia and hosts Great Britain on Saturday’s opening day.
Japan ended the day in fifth position in the overall team ranking, with reigning Olympic champion China one place below in sixth.
With China having competed in the first qualifying session on Saturday morning, Japan knew about its rival’s travails when it emerged for the second session at the North Greenwich Arena, but still it struggled.
Uchimura’s uneven display was emblematic of Japan’s difficulties.
Tipped for gold in the men’s individual all-around competition, the three-time world champion fell off the high bar and the pommel horse and left the arena with the ninth-highest individual score of the day.
The slates will be wiped clean when the teams resume hostilities in the team competition on Monday, and Uchimura says Japan cannot afford to be distracted by China again.
“We were all more or less thinking about how the Chinese were going to perform, so it might have affected our performance today,” he said.
“From now on, we’ll try not to think about how the Chinese team are going to do and just try to do our best.”
Uchimura said he was “not worried” about his own performance levels, but conceded that improvements needed to be made.
“I’ll try not to make any more mistakes,” he said. “We’ll proctice tomorrow (Sunday), so I’ll try to improve.”
Such is the difficulty level of Uchimura’s routines that he can usually afford to make mistakes and still record higher scores than most of his rivals.
His fall from the high bar was a bridge too far, however, and his score of 15.000 deprived him of a place in the event final.
Meanwhile, miscalculations elsewhere, coupled with better performances by his team-mates and rivals, mean that his only chances of individual gold now lie in the all-around event and on the floor.
Prior to the start of the Olympics, Uchimura insisted his primary motivation was ensuring Japan win the team gold, and team coach Takahiro Moriizumi said he remained a dedicated team-player.
“The thing with Uchimura is that everyone in the world thinks he is just interested in being a star, but we are all playing as a team,” he said.