When Kohei Uchimura heard he’d tested positive for COVID-19, the three-time Olympic gold medalist was shocked.
“When I was first told I was positive, I didn’t believe it at all,” he said, recalling his initial reaction to the result of a PCR test from Oct. 28 during a news conference on Saturday, one day before Tokyo hosts a four-nation gymnastics competition at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
Uchimura’s initial disbelief was proven to be right in the long run. He didn’t have the virus. Subsequent testing, including of his original sample, revealed his first test was a false positive.
After the initial worry, Uchimura is now taking the experience in stride, noting that had he returned a false negative, there wouldn’t have been any investigation. It was also a test case of sorts for something that could happen during next summer’s Olympics.
Still, the news of the false positive last month likely came as a relief to the organizers of Sunday’s meet, which is more than a friendly gathering of gymnasts from Japan, China, Russia and the U.S.
The meet will be the first international event featuring athletes arriving from overseas that Japan has hosted since the Tokyo Olympics were postponed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s being called a test of whether or not an international competition can be staged under the current circumstances, with the Olympics less than a year away.
“I think it’s our job as gymnasts to really perform well during competition, and it’ll be great if we can do it without any infections or injuries,” Uchimura said. “I think this can be a model toward the Olympics.”
As for his own ordeal, he now counts the experience as a positive. Although he feels bad his test result disrupted his teammates’ training. When Uchimura’s test came back positive, the gymnastics areas at Tokyo’s National Training Center were closed and all eight gymnasts and team staff were tested for the virus.
“I was really sorry that everyone’s practice stopped,” Uchimura said. “They told me it was OK, but since it lasted for two days, I felt bad about it.”
With that behind him, Uchimura is looking ahead to next year’s Olympics and how to best prepare himself for the games on home soil. Uchimura, who won’t defend his Olympic title in the men’s all-around, is planning to compete on four apparatus on Sunday.
“I know this event has some special meaning,” he said. “For me, it’s also a stepping stone to the Olympics.”
The meet will also be his first international competition in two years.
“I’m feeling like I’ve finally come back,” Uchimura said.
Uchimura praised the countermeasures the event organizers were taking with regard to the coronavirus, which shut down sports across the globe for months. Even when athletes returned to the playing field, many stadiums remained empty as fans were barred from attending games. Fans, in limited numbers, have been allowed at sporting events in Japan since July. Sunday’s meet will allow up to 2,000 spectators.
Gymnasts arriving from abroad were required to take PCR tests within 72 hours of their departure and the gymnasts will be tested daily in Japan. International Gymnastics Federation President Morinari Watanabe told Kyodo News earlier this week the tests were to give athletes a “sense of security.” There are also measures put in place for each team in regards to travel between their hotel and the venue and also inside the hotel.
Some of the countermeasures put in place could possibly be used at the postponed games next year and were at least enough to make the three other nations feel comfortable enough to participate.
“The health and safety of our athletes is our utmost priority and we would not be here today if we were not comfortable with the measures that were taken,” USA Gymnastics President Li Li Leung said Saturday.
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