This is the first in a series of unpublished interviews from 2012.
LONDON — His new gold medal around his neck, Kohei Uchimura quietly accepted a round of applause as he sat down in the press room off the arena. It had been a very eventful few days: the favored Japanese men had claimed the silver medal in the team competition, behind World champion China, after a controversial call by the judges on Uchimura’s pommel horse dismount had elevated the team from fourth place to second.
Uchimura had been unbeatable for the past three years and it was almost a given that the Olympic Games would be no different. He was the greatest gymnast in the world, of his generation, perhaps of all time. His nickname was Superman. Surely the Olympics would not be a hindrance to him.
But cracks in Uchimura’s armour had appeared almost as soon as he began competing in London. During men’s podium training, he crashed a triple twisting double tuck and removed the skill from his floor routine. In the men’s team prelims, he fell from the high bar and finished ninth overall on the first day. In men’s team finals, he had what can only be called a freak out as he swung into his handstand pirouetting dismount.
The controversial call — whether he had actually made it to handstand, and the officials who reviewed the tape decided that yes, he had — added 0.7 to the Japanese men’s team score and sprung them from fourth place to second. It was an expected medal, but it had come in such an unexpected way.
Uchimura finally did what he was capable of — almost — during the men’s all-around final, where the gold medal had eluded him in Beijing four years earlier (he finished with silver, an incredible feat given that he slipped off the pommel horse twice in the all-around final.) Aside from brushing his hand on the floor mat during his last event, he was Uchimura of old; golden, unbeatable Kohei.
After the medal ceremony he was taken first down to the bowels of the North Greenwich Arena where the numerous, horde-like Japanese media surrounded him. Then it was upstairs to the media room, which was filled with reporters of other nationalities. It’s that interview that’s below.
Q: Is there an opening statement that you would like to make?
Uchimura: “Well, I should say that I proved what I can do what I trained.”
Q: The early part of this competition (the men’s qualifying and team finals) were more difficult for you than today. Did you have to change your feelings before you competed?
Uchimura: “I should say that it was like the World [Championships] competition last year. Even though we won only a silver medal, it was something we won together. I was happy we got the silver medal at the end. I shouldn’t say I changed my feelings. I wasn’t that depressed actually.”
Q: What does the gold medal mean to the people of Japan?
Uchimura: “Well, I’m so thankful. I’m so grateful. That’s all I can say. It’s not only my ability or skill. It’s because of all the support I’ve received. So I just want to say thank you to all of the people.”
Q: How did the competition feel to you today?
Uchimura: “Well, I started on the pommel horse and that was the first time I had started on the pommel horse in the last four years. So I was wondering what to do at the very beginning. However, I knew I could have a good floor routine. Yesterday my coach told me that maybe I could decrease the level of the horizontal bar in terms of the difficulty. He mentioned it. But also I had a gut feeling to change the level of the difficulty.”
Q: You know your condition each morning when you wake up. How did you feel this morning?
Uchimura: “To be honest? It was not good this morning. But I shared a room with Koji Yamamuro, and he had an injury [during the men’s team final, a very Kerri Strug-like moment when he hurt himself on vault.] I watched him as he was sleeping in bed this morning. We were planning to do this competition together, but he got this injury, so I felt very regretful, and so did our coach. So when I saw him in the bed, I told myself I was trying to do my best for him as well.”
Q: What are your future goals now that you have won the Olympic championship?
Uchimura: “Well, the biggest game for me is this one, and I got the gold. So I have the ideal of artistic gymnastics and I have a vision of how I can compete and play and practice. So I want to establish something and continue to express it. And Rio is one of those visions I have in mind. I’m not sure how far I can go, but I want to challenge myself to the limit.”
Q: You seem very calm when you compete. Do you ever feel pressure?
Uchimura: “Well, I’m flattered. But at the same time, I have to do my best, the 50/50 kind of feelings. But I don’t want to take that as a pressure.”
Q: You are very close to your mother. Could you hear her cheering for you tonight?
Uchimura: “Well, I think her voice, her cheers are the biggest ones for me. They were the biggest support and biggest voice for me. And before coming to the Olympics, my mother told me she would give me big cheers from the stadium, and it’s because of her voice that I think I was able to do my best.”
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