Reigning Olympic and world all-around gymnastics champion Kohei Uchimura won his eighth consecutive NHK Cup on Thursday.
As usual, Uchimura was in a league of his own, totaling 184.650 points to finish comfortably ahead of Ryohei Kato (180.100), who beat Yusuke Tanaka by just 0.100 to punch his ticket to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The remaining three places on Japan’s men’s team, plus the backups, will be decided after the National Apparatus Championships on June 4-5.
Once Uchimura nailed his signature event, the horizontal bar, for a 16.150 to close out the competition, the crowd at Yoyogi National Stadium erupted.
“Landing is something I expect myself to do, but it still feels good when you finish properly especially when the crowd reacts the way it did,” Uchimura said. “I need to do this again at the Olympics, and I will do it.
“I’m happy with my performance today, but I’ve got to do even better in Rio. Along with Ryohei, we have to set the tone for the team. The little things will make the difference from here on.
“In all likelihood, this is the program I’m using at the Olympics so it’s nice to know I can execute it without making any mistakes. If I keep fine-tuning at this rate, I should be able to have the performance of a lifetime in Rio.”
Kato had to score a 15.600 on the bar to surpass Tanaka and qualify for Rio — and produced exactly that in a performance he described as his best ever.
“The pressure seems to bring out the best in me,” Kato said. “Before I grabbed the bar, I knew I had to get at least a 15.600 which has never been a score easy for me to attain, but I just went for it.
“Four years ago, I was just happy to be named to the team. I was on cloud nine and didn’t know what was what. This time, I got the job done knowing what I was doing.
“I like to think consistency is my biggest strength.”
The points total at the NHK Cup includes the points from last month’s national championships, which Uchimura also won.
The last three slots on the team will ultimately be decided by the Japan Gymnastics Association’s selection panel, which is expected to pick Tanaka and 19-year-old Kenzo Shirai, the defending world champion in the floor.
Shirai ended up fifth here, more than seven points behind Uchimura, after falling off the pommel horse.
Both Uchimura and Kato said their ultimate goal for the upcoming Summer Games is to win the gold medal in the team event, which Japan has not won since the 2004 Olympics in Athens but topped it at the world championships last year in Glasgow.
“It’s an achievement I’ve longed for and been chasing for all my career, but now we’re in a position to attain it ourselves,” Uchimura said of Japan’s triumph 12 years ago. “We need to get it done so we can pave the way for the future.
“I felt better physically at the world championships, and I’ll make sure that I’m in even better shape for the Olympics.”
Kato said, “I want to win a gold at the Olympics in the team competition. It’s the goal for all of us.”