Ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, superstar Kohei Uchimura and four other members of the Japan men’s gymnastics team got haircuts a few days ago.
This wasn’t necessarily a sign of their spirited mood for competition at the global sporting festival, because it’s a little too premature for that.
On Tuesday, one day before their departure for South America, the five gymnasts looked pretty laid-back at a Tokyo news conference.
“I don’t really feel like we’re taking off (from Japan), and I’m calm and it makes me wonder if I’m really going to the Olympics,” said Uchimura, the defending Olympic individual all-around champion.
Making his third straight Summer Games appearance, however, the six-time all-around world champion knows how to prepare himself for the main event.
“Once we get to the site, we are going to get excited more, so I’m not worried,” said the 27-year-old Uchimura, who’s eager to capture the team gold in Rio, which would be the first for the Japan men’s squad since the 2004 Athens Games.
Japan earned the silver in the men’s all-around team competition at the 2012 London Games. Including Uchimura, four of the five gymnasts heading to Rio competed in London, and it’s surely helped them keep their poise at this time.
“We’re finally leaving, but I feel calmer than I was four years ago,” said Yusuke Tanaka, another veteran. “The only concern I have is to make sure I didn’t forget any stuff I should bring with me.”
After leaving Japan on Wednesday, the men’s gymnastic team will stop in Dallas for about 10 hours and then head to Sao Paulo, where it will hold its final training camp.
The long journey, including a stop in Texas, will take more than 30 hours, and the gymnasts will concentrate on being in their best physical condition and adjusting to the time difference during the trip and after arriving in Brazil.
But both Uchimura and Kenzo Shirai said that they would not get too nervous about the long trip and adapting to their conditions.
“I think I can sleep until we get to Dallas,” Uchimura said. “But after Dallas, I haven’t decided what I’m going to do. I’ll just leave it to whatever I feel like doing at that time.”
Said Shirai: “I’m not going to be like, ‘I’ve got to do this and do that,’ either. I’ll put the idea of traveling is tiring away and try to rather have fun with it.”
Shirai, 19, is the only member of the Japan men’s team who will make his Olympic debut in Rio. But he didn’t display any anxiety about competing on the biggest stage in sports.
“I’ve competed at the tough Olympic trials and collegiate tournaments, so no matter what situations I’ll be in, I think I’ll be fine,” said Shirai, a two-time gold medalist in floor exercise at the world championships, with a smile. “I’m making my first Olympics, but if I can adjust to the circumstances, I’m sure I can naturally perform well.”
The men’s all-around team competition is scheduled for Aug. 6 and 8.