For Uchimura, gymnastics is more than competition

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kohei Uchimura acknowledges spectators at the Takasaki Arena in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, on Sunday after securing a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

Japanese gymnastics star Kohei Uchimura feels he has a mission to use the power of sports to benefit society.

“I have a role to play in addition to performing [gymnastics],” Uchimura said after earning an individual spot in artistic gymnastics on Sunday for his fourth trip to the Olympics, where he will focus on the horizontal bar.

After winning gold medals in the team competition and individual all-around at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, Uchimura struggled with injuries and considered retirement. It was the Tokyo Games that kept him going.

“It’s simply special,” Uchimura said about the Games to be held in his own country.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, Uchimura won his third straight all-around title and the floor exercise at the world championships held in Tokyo in October the same year.

Uchimura remembers how survivors sent him messages after the championships.

“People told me things like, ‘I was encouraged by you,’” Uchimura recalled. “I learned that what we’re doing can give light to society.”

Believing his struggles would touch people’s hearts, Uchimura shared his thoughts with the public. “Please think about how the Games can be held, not how they can’t be held” due to the novel coronavirus, Uchimura said in November last year.

“I have to pass my experiences on to younger generations,” he said after the All-Japan competition in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, on Sunday.

In about a month and a half, Uchimura will perform at an event more meaningful than any he’s experienced before.