crown. But the comparison ends the moment
the two mount the apparatus. Uchimura is
smooth where Yang was sloppy, effortless where
Yang was labored.
Ironically, as accomplished as Uchimura is
with chalk on his hands, he seems less motivated outside the gym. He says he spends his spare
time “sleeping, shopping … it depends.” And
what about his personality? “I like doing things at
my own pace,” he says.
Says Hambüchen: “We know each other pret-
ty well now from several competitions. He is a
really nice guy and pretty funny. He likes to
laugh, like nearly every Japanese gymnast.”
What makes Uchimura’s world title even more
daunting to competitors is that he’s still so
young. He turned 21 on Jan. 3, and is still
improving. “I did nothing special [to celebrate],”
he said of his birthday. “But in the morning I per-
formed on radio programs of the new year.”
During one of those programs, Uchimura was
quizzed about the origin of his name, Kohei.
“What I was told is Hei is from TaiHeiYou
(Pacific Ocean), and Kou means crossing, so [my
parents] wanted me to be a great child that can
cross the Pacific Ocean,” he says. “I’m a bit
afraid that I haven’t lived up to my name.
However, I got really great results last year, so I
think I could do something similar to that.”
Right now, Uchimura has replaced 2005
world champion Hiroyuki Tomita as the new
leader of the Japanese team. He is building his
own legacy at Nippon Sport Science University,
where he is starting his final year in physical edu-
cation. “I must bring the team together while
doing my own training,” he says. “Many great
gymnasts came from here: Takemoto, Aihara,
Yamashita, Tsurumi, Kenmotsu, Tsukahara,
Okamura, Fujimoto, Gushiken, Morisue, Mizu-
With the Olympics only two years away,
Uchimura is fully aware of the challenge ahead.
“We know each other pretty
well now from several competitions,” says Fabian
Hambüchen. “He is a really
nice guy and pretty funny.
He likes to laugh, like nearly every Japanese gymnast.”
Tomita led Japan to gold at Athens 2004, but
China claimed the 2008 crown at home in
Beijing, where Uchimura actually surpassed
Tomita in actual scoring.
Even with two falls from pommel horse in the
2008 all-around final, Uchimura grabbed the sil-
ver behind Yang. At London 2012, his main
focus will not be on the all-around at all. “The
team gold is more important,” he says. “The
team gold is everything at the Olympics.”
But Uchimura is careful not to look too far
ahead, just as he refuses to believe his success in
2009 has any bearing on the present. In his
mind, he always starts from scratch. “I can’t win
the  worlds if I do not qualify [for the
team],” he says philosophically. “So, I think that
it leads me to victory at worlds to do my best at
Such humble thoughts should serve Uchimura
well. It’s evident he doesn’t do gymnastics just
for the medals. The sport has been his life since
age 3. It’s more martial art than competition.
Still, the idea of Uchimura going undefeated
through the 2012 London Olympics is not farfetched. He will be hard to catch at the
Rotterdam worlds in October, and the 2011
Tokyo worlds will be on home soil. Uchimura
certainly knows this but is disciplined enough not
to internalize it. He performs for a different set
of eyes, anyway.
“I want to enjoy each competition and show
people beautiful gymnastics,” he says. Should he
achieve those basic goals, chances are he will
win over the judges, too. IG
Uchimura chalks the p-bars with the help of his
coach, Yoshiaki Hatakeda (above), and flashes the
peace sign while waiting for his all-around gold in
London, which he won over Daniel Keatings (left).