'King Kohei' ends golden gymnastics career with tinge of regret

·3-min read

Retiring Japanese gymnastics legend Kohei Uchimura said Friday that he had made his mark on the sport but was too much of a perfectionist to be satisfied.

The 33-year-old "King Kohei" won two Olympic and six world all-around titles, earning a reputation as one of the greatest male gymnasts of all time.

But Uchimura could not help but dwell on his perceived shortcomings when he spoke to reporters for the first time since announcing his retirement on Tuesday.

"If you're just talking about results, then I think I made my mark, but when I look back, I think about how I should have done this or that differently," said Uchimura, looking dapper in a dark suit as he answered questions at a Tokyo hotel.

"If you ask me if I'm satisfied with my career, I'd have to say no."

Uchimura won back-to-back all-around Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016, and also claimed the team title with Japan at the Rio 2016 Games.

He reigned supreme as world champion for eight years starting from 2009, until he was dethroned by injury.

His body began to show signs of wear and tear in recent years, and he dropped the defence of his all-around title at last year's Tokyo Olympics to focus on the horizontal bar.

He failed to reach the final, falling in qualifying.

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

He said the tiredness he felt preparing for that event convinced him to retire.

"More than my body hurting, I knew it would be difficult to keep up the practice needed to aim for the top, as a member of the Japan team," he said.

- 'Gymnastics made me' -

Uchimura added that it would be "100 percent impossible" to continue until the 2024 Paris Games and said that he lacked "motivation" to compete without a realistic chance of winning.

But he said he was happy to end his career on a high note at last year's worlds.

Uchimura finished sixth in the horizontal bar final but stuck a textbook landing on the dismount, drawing a rapturous response from the home crowd.

"If you're an Olympic champion or world champion, it goes without saying that you have to stick the landing," he said.

"In my last competition, I was absolutely determined to stick the landing, no matter how the rest of my performance went."

Uchimura described his performances in the all-around finals of the 2011 world championships in Tokyo and 2016 Olympics as the best of his career.

In Rio, he came from behind to snatch gold from Ukraine's Oleg Verniaiev on the final apparatus after a stunning horizontal bar routine.

But he reserved his highest praise for his 2011 worlds performance, saying he had "never felt so much in the zone".

"From the moment I woke up, I felt that everything I did that day was going to come off," he said.

Uchimura will give one final performance -- on all six apparatus -- at an exhibition event in Tokyo in March.

He said he plans to continue promoting gymnastics in his home country, having taken up the sport as a small child.

"The word 'thanks' doesn't really cover my gratitude to gymnastics," he said.

"It's all I've known since I was three. Gymnastics made me what I am."

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