Japanese gymnastics great Kohei Uchimura, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic men's all-around gold medalist, looked back on his career with pride Friday and revealed his goals for the future as he announced his impending retirement.
The 33-year-old, a six-time individual all-around world champion, said he will make one last appearance in a retirement event on March 12 at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, where he will give demonstrations on all six apparatuses along with other gymnasts.
"It hasn't really sunk in. I'm proud to have worn Japan's emblem for 16 of my 30-year career as a gymnast," said Uchimura during a press conference.
The winner of a staggering 40 straight tournaments in the all-around at home and abroad from 2008 through 2017, Uchimura spoke of two standout moments from his career.
He recalled the 2011 world championships in Tokyo, saying that he saw himself executing everything right even before waking up in the morning and how the tournament ended with an all-around title, exactly as he envisioned.
He also brought up the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics all-around final, where he came from behind to snatch the gold medal from the hands of Ukraine's Oleg Verniaiev in the last rotation, the horizontal bar.
"That was a fierce battle worthy of going into the Olympic gymnastics history book. I could feel us two dominating the atmosphere of the entire venue," Uchimura said.
He made his fourth games appearance at last summer's Tokyo Olympics but suffered an early exit. Focusing solely on the horizontal bar due to persistent shoulder problems, Uchimura failed to land his Bretschneider, the move that comes with the apparatus's highest difficulty score of H.
Uchimura said he had already decided to call time on his career before October's world championships in Kitakyushu, his hometown in southwestern Japan.
"I'm still not getting the feeling that I want to quit. I've always wanted to carry on forever if I could," he said. "(But) things were getting too tough as I trained toward the worlds and I felt 'This might be my last.'"
"I could no longer keep myself having the world's best training, due partly to pain in my body, but more so because of my (lowering) motivation and mentality."
Uchimura finished sixth on the horizontal bar but was happy he once again could showcase one of the trademarks that had set him apart from the rest throughout his career -- nailing his landing.
"I didn't get the result I wanted, but it was positive that I could nail it and show the next generation of gymnasts what gymnastics is all about," Uchimura said.
"In my opinion, a world and Olympic champion should be expected to nail the landings. I believe people have the impression of my executing those because I strived to accomplish that standard."
Uchimura, who compiled a vast repertoire of some 500 different techniques in the various disciplines, will leave the world of competitive gymnastics without a single one bearing his name.
Uchimura said that was by choice as he created several new moves, but his focus was solely on stamping his mark on the world with victories.
"I didn't do those new techniques because they weren't necessary for me to remain on top of the world in the all-around," he said. "I'd like to believe I've done something bigger, and I take pride in it."
Uchimura said his difficult five years following the Rio Olympics had taught him the most about gymnastics as he aims to transition into coaching and popularize the sport among children.
"I had gotten used to only knowing the best, so it was necessary to know what it is like to bounce back from setbacks," he said. "For someone looking to guide those who aim for Olympic gold medals, getting to experience both glory and failure was valuable."
"My biggest emphasis will be on having the right character as a human being before being a gymnast. The real athletes are those with wonderful characters, who the people of Japan get behind and also achieve good results, like (baseball player Shohei) Ohtani and (figure skater Yuzuru) Hanyu."
Before taking that step, Uchimura's focus will be on March, when he brings down the curtain in a manner unlike any other gymnast to date.
"I'll shake my aching body up at the very end of my career," he said. "There has never been a gymnast who had a retirement event, and I wanted to make it a goal for gymnasts that they can also have one like this if they achieve my heights."
"I wanted to finish on all six apparatuses as I've always been an all-rounder. I really love it, and I just wouldn't feel like myself if I only did the horizontal bar at the end."