• Reuters, AFP-Jiji, Kyodo


Two-time Olympic all-around champion Kohei Uchimura announced his retirement on Tuesday, bringing an end to the career of one of the best male gymnasts of all time.

Dubbed “King Kohei” in Japan, Uchimura won a total of seven Olympic medals — including three golds — at Beijing, London and Rio, but came away empty handed from last year’s Tokyo Games.

The 33-year-old announced his decision to retire through his management company. No further details were immediately available but local media said Uchimura would hold a news conference in the near future.

Uchimura won every world and Olympic all-around title from 2009 to 2016. He became the first man in 44 years to top the individual all-around podium in back-to-back Olympics with a nail-biting final in the 2016 Rio Games.

But as age and injury took their toll, Uchimura decided late in 2019 to concentrate on the horizontal bar to make the Japan team for his fourth Olympics.

Proud to compete at the Games on home soil, his Olympic career came to an abrupt end in Tokyo when he lost his grip on the bar and crashed to the floor, failing to qualify for the finals.

He said at the time: “In the last three Olympics I took part in, I was always able to bring out in competition what I practiced, but I can’t do that anymore.

“I’m past my peak. I just have to accept that calmly.

“I honestly feel I gave it my all. I think I was able to convey the wonder of gymnastics to the spectators.”

Uchimura boasted a winning streak that spanned 10 years, from the national championships in 2008 to the NHK Cup in 2017.

He won the individual all-around title — the event that encompasses the floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar — at the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics. He was also part of the gold-winning team in Rio.

Kohei Uchimura poses with his gold medal after winning the men's individual all-around gymnastics competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 10, 2016. | REUTERS
Kohei Uchimura poses with his gold medal after winning the men’s individual all-around gymnastics competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 10, 2016. | REUTERS

After becoming Japan’s first professional gymnast shortly after the Rio Games, Uchimura had to withdraw from the 2017 world championships following a left-ankle injury and give up his attempt to win a seventh successive world all-around gymnastics title.

He finished third at the 2018 nationals, ending his 10-year reign as the Japanese all-around gymnastics champion. That same year he suffered a right ankle ligament injury that prevented him from competing in the individual all-around event at worlds.

Uchimura’s final competition was at the world championships last October in Kitakyushu, the Japanese city where he was born.

He finished sixth in the horizontal bar final but was given a rapturous reception by the home crowd after sticking a textbook landing from his dismount.

He said after that event that he would take time to consider his next move, but acknowledged there was “a new generation emerging” in gymnastics.

Revered in Japan, Uchimura was also a crowd favourite because of his easy-going personality and love of chocolate.

At the Rio Games in 2016 he made headlines by racking up a ¥500,000 ($4,500) phone bill playing Pokemon Go, the popular mobile game.

But he was strictly business when it came to competition, winning silver in the all-around and team events in his Olympic debut in 2008.

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