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THE FAB FIVE / Japan men’s gymnastics squad has eyes on 1st Olympic team gold since 2004

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri ShimbunGymnastics star Kohei Uchimura is set to enter Rio de Janeiro as the men’s defending all-around Olympic champion. If he gets the gold, the 27-year-old will extend his combined winning streak at the Olympics and World Championships to eight. However, a pursuit of individual glory is not his focus — he yearns for a team gold, the title Japan has missed out on every time since its victory at the 2004 Athens Games.

Uchimura, captain of the Japan team, expresses confidence in the team’s depth, saying: “I believe this five-member squad is the best team in the world now. I’ll devote myself to proving it [at Rio].”

After winning the gold at Athens, Japan has been chasing archrival China in the team event at the Olympics. The tide finally changed last year — led by Uchimura — as Japan won at the World Championships for the first time in 37 years and snapped China’s title streak at the competition at six.

The five gymnasts all have proven track records. Four of them — Uchimura, Ryohei Kato, Yusuke Tanaka and Koji Yamamuro — underwent the bitter experience of settling for silver behind China at the 2012 London Games.

All four have won all-around medals at worlds, and the last and youngest member, Kenzo Shirai, is a two-time floor champion at worlds.

“The guys selected are reliable. This team is really strong,” said Kato, who won the all-around silver at the 2013 World Championships.

“We will pool our collective abilities to win the team gold,” Tanaka said.

“I want to work hard for the team gold with reliable experienced members,” Shirai said.

All except Shirai belong to Konami Sports Club. At the company’s send-off ceremony held on July 1, Uchimura expressed his confidence, saying, “If we can execute the way we normally do, the goal is attainable.”

Japan adds ringer Yamamuro

The veteran Yamamuro has made a full comeback from a foot injury and has been added to reinforce a Japanese weak area — the rings.

Yamamuro’s lasting image from the London Games is especially bitter because he broke his left instep during the finish of the vault, the second event in the team final.

The injury rendered him unable to participate in the remaining events, and the team settled for second.

“It was my first Olympics, so I was under crushing pressure,” said Yamamuro, who has battled Uchimura since high school.

He came back the next year, but the pain in his foot persisted, and he couldn’t shake the fear of landings. He failed to make the national team after taking part at the 2013 worlds.

The fears faded by 2015, and he was selected to the national team for worlds — but as an alternate. He never had the opportunity to contribute to the team winning the gold medal.

“It was like something happening in a different world, although I was right there with [the other members],” the 27-year-old said.

The experience fueled Yamamuro’s ambition to reach the Olympics.

At the All-Japan Apparatus Championships in June, he executed a near-perfect vault en route to winning a seat on the men’s team for Rio.

“I finally made it back,” Yamamuro said.

Hopes are high for the veteran, whose favorite event is the rings. “This could be my last chance to perform to the best of my ability,” Yamamuro said. “I want to show my style of gymnastics, and create a nice memory of the Olympics.”

Determining the winning team

The scoring system in the men’s team competition totals the points accumulated across six events — the floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar.

In the preliminary round, four gymnasts will be chosen from five-man squads to take part in each event, with points earned by the top three scorers counting toward the team total. Eight of the 12 teams qualify for the final. In the final, the point system changes. Three athletes will compete in each event, with all of their scores counted — meaning that a single mistake could have a huge impact on the team’s total.

Uchimura is expected to compete in all six events in the final, while other gymnasts are expected to take part in two to four events, mainly their specialty areas.

At Rio, the stable performance of all-rounders — represented by Uchimura — and high scores of Shirai, a specialist in the floor and the vault, will likely be necessary for Japan to get the gold.Speech

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