Kohei Uchimura missed his 11th straight national championship victory in April, but said the taste of defeat propelled him to his 10th straight NHK Cup crown on Sunday.
The 29-year-old finished third at the nationals, suffering a shocking defeat to Kakeru Tanigawa, who is 10 years younger than the two-time defending Olympic champion.
“I won today because I lost at the nationals. If I had won, maybe today’s results wouldn’t have happened,” Uchimura said. “After the loss, I started over, re-examining everything, and that led to today’s win.”
Uchimura’s loss stirred concerns the Japanese hero had not returned to full fitness since sustaining a left-ankle injury at last October’s worlds, and that younger talent might already be passing him by.
But after finishing the final routine, the high bar, with a clean landing, Uchimura pumped his fist, having proved he could still lead the competitive scene.
“I wasn’t thinking anything (before the routine). I trained a lot so I just assumed I’d win if I performed like I always do. I just assumed,” Uchimura said. “I hadn’t been able to nail such a clean landing in a while, so I just felt a surge of emotion.”
This October, he will get a shot at yet another overall world championship at the Oct. 25-Nov. 3 worlds in Doha, after crashing out last year at the worlds due to the injury sustained in qualifying in Montreal. But after Sunday’s win, the star known in Japan as “King Kohei” was willing to joke about hitting bottom.
“I have lost once, so now I’m ‘I was king,’ ” he said.
Teammate Kenzo Shirai went on to finish third there, while China’s Xiao Ruoteng claimed gold.
Shirai, Sunday’s runner-up, also claimed a spot on the team for Doha.
“Kohei-san felt really disappointed at last year’s event, and I was also frustrated. I was just aiming to compete at the meet with him once more,” Shirai said.
“I knew he would make a comeback, so I just thought it’s up to me to claim a spot.”
Uchimura said he covets the team gold above all else.
“As much as I want to make up for before, I want to win the team event since it’s also a qualifier for the Olympics,” he said.
“To be honest, I’m struggling because I’m 29. I’ll be pleased if I don’t have to perform all six routines.”