Japanese artistic gymnastics great Kohei Uchimura had his last hurrah on Saturday, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic men's all-around gold medalist retiring after performing at a packed Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
The winner of a staggering 40 straight tournaments in the all-around at home and abroad from 2008 through 2017, Uchimura made one last appearance in a unique event dubbed "Kohei Uchimura the Final," joined by his nine Japan teammates and a crowd of around 6,500, including his mother and father.
Uchimura turned back the clock in his grand finale, performing on each apparatus for the first time since August 2019, when injuries to both shoulders forced him to stop competing in the six-apparatus all-around.
A six-time individual all-around world champion, Uchimura announced the event when he told a Jan. 14 press conference he would retire after a unique farewell exhibition.
"I really want to say thank you to everyone who supported me up till this day," he said after being tossed in the air six times by other guest gymnasts, including Kenzo Shirai, with whom he won team gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and Tokyo Games all-around champion Daiki Hashimoto.
"It's been 30 years since I started gymnastics, and there's only been arduousness. But the joy of winning with my Japan teammates here, as well as individually, and that of learning new techniques eventually began to eclipse that."
"My entire body has been aching since I've finished. Half of me is saying it was a good call to retire, the other half says I can still carry on."
While no scores were awarded for the day's performances, Uchimura was close to his impeccable best. He nailed the smooth landings that have defined his career on the floor exercise, pommel horse and rings as two other gymnasts joined him on each apparatus.
A solid parallel bars routine was sandwiched by a slight step out on his vault and horizontal bar landings. He sparkled once more, however, by nailing a Bretschneider on the horizontal bar, the apparatus' most difficult move.
At the Tokyo Games, he fell and made an early exit, while he finished sixth on the apparatus at October's world championships, held in his birthplace of Kitakyushu, before deciding to call it a career.
"I was too close to the bar with all the release moves, and I couldn't nail the landing at the end. That's why this event was called the final," joked Uchimura.
"I'm giving myself a mark of 60 (out of 100), I was made aware again of how grueling it is to compete on six apparatuses. It was frightening to think I used to do them perfectly."
"I wanted to carry on forever, but my horizontal bar wasn't so great at the Olympics and world championships last year, and today also. I had felt it was about the right time."
It was a fitting stage to bow out for a man nicknamed the "king" of the sport with his fellow 2016 team gold medalists and 2020 Tokyo games gymnasts from Japan joining the action.
"As long as I live, I'll never forget performing together on the horizontal bar in your final performance," said 20-year-old Hashimoto, the heir to Uchimura's all-around title, who is expected to lead Japanese artistic gymnastics in the years ahead.
"I'm coming to grips with the size of what you've built after seeing how big an impact your retirement is having on the world of gymnastics at home and abroad. I can't believe I'm speaking these words to someone I used to watch on TV."
"We'll inherit what you've done for us and try to get the team gold in Paris to prove to the world Japan is the best."
Shirai, the 25-year-old Rio Games vault bronze medalist, retired last June but made a special comeback and electrified the crowd with the twisting techniques that bear his name on the floor and vault.
"Thank you for giving everyone dreams, hope and courage," said Shirai, who was 10 when Uchimura spotted his talent. "What you are going to do next is filling the hearts of gymnasts and fans alike with excitement."
Uchimura, who also won team silver at the 2012 London Games, reiterated his desire to pass on his experience and help Japanese artistic gymnastics evolve, vowing to remain in the limelight in a new capacity.
"I've seen many people crying, but I'm really positive as I see this as not an end but a new step," said Uchimura, who thanked his parents for giving him his strong body.
"I can still move and will convey to younger gymnasts how to pursue techniques in ways only I can offer...I want to be the one who knows most about gymnastics. I want to research it, popularize it and increase its value within society."
"I've enjoyed one happy career as a gymnast."