Kohei Uchimura earned his 10th straight national individual all-around championship on Sunday, edging Kosuke Tanaka by 0.05 points for the landmark win.
In his first competition since winning the team and individual all-around gold medals at last August’s Rio Games, Uchimura settled for fourth during Friday’s qualification phase.
But the 28-year-old showed his younger rivals what he is all about, flawlessly executing on each apparatus and precise with his landings to score 86.350 points.
“My motivation was down like never before after qualifying, but I could recover today. I felt it’s the support I get from everyone that is allowing me to continue,” said the two-time reigning Olympic champion.
“I knew it would be decided by the tiniest of margins, but it’s not often it gets as close as this. We had gymnasts coming through from the younger generation, too, so it was a good day all around for Japanese gymnastics.”
The win sees Uchimura continue his unrivalled all-around winning streak to 39 in all tournaments home and abroad, which includes the Olympics and world championships — where he has won the last six times.
The Fukuoka native had been away from competition after suffering a left shoulder injury following the Rio Olympics.
“Not being able to win the championship is frustrating, but no one was going to stand between Kohei and his 10th straight title,” said Tanaka, who won the team gold with Uchimura in Rio.
Tanaka also came through without any mistakes to push the sport’s superstar all the way, while Kenzo Shirai (86.100), another member of the Rio team and the Olympic bronze medalist on the vault, was third.
“Part of me thinks it would have left me at ease had I lost here today,” Uchimura said. “But I want more (gymnasts) coming through. And I have to improve too. Today’s performance wouldn’t cut it at the world stage.”
Mai Murakami repeated as women’s champion with 56.450 points over four apparatus, while Aiko Sugihara (54.450) was runner-up.
“There were minor mistakes but I managed the big performance as I intended, since I’d figured beforehand I was feeling nervous for a first time in while and that could intimidate me,” said the 20-year-old Murakami, who helped Japan to a fourth-place team finish in Rio.
“I had been making mistakes at tournaments I wanted to win and my main focus has been not to repeat the same mistake, so this could be down to that.”