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Uchimura: No Plans to Become a Specialist
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Gymnastics king Kohei Uchimura, undefeated in the all-around since 2009, says he has changed his mind about becoming a specialist and plans to keep training in the all-around.

Gymnastics king Kohei Uchimura, undefeated in the all-around since 2009, says he has changed his mind about becoming a specialist and plans to keep training in the all-around.

Uchimura, who won his second Olympic all-around title in August in Rio de Janeiro, said in an interview this week that he won't be giving up on the all-around anytime soon. The 27-year-old Japanese superstar previously had said that he planned to become a specialist as he looks ahead to competing in Tokyo 2020, his fourth Olympic Games.

"I actually thought of stopping competing as all-arounder right after Rio," he told newspaper Nikkei. "But I changed my mind later because I've been saying 'Gymnastics is six events. It just is,' for a long time, so I thought that I won't allow myself to turn into event specialist. So I've decided to perform six events from my heart and fight as an all-arounder. If I fail at qualifying in the all-around, I will think of a way to live as an event specialist."

Uchimura captured his second consecutive Olympic all-around title this past summer in Rio de Janeiro.

Uchimura is the most dominant gymnast of all time, winning six consecutive world championship all-around titles from 2009 to 2015, and back-to-back Olympic all-around titles. In Rio, he led the Japanese team to victory in the team competition, its first Olympic team gold since 2004 and second since 1976.

Uchimura has been undefeated internationally and at home since his second place at the 2008 Olympic Games in Rio. But his all-around victory in Rio was his most hard-fought ever. Battling top qualifier Oleg Vernyayev in the all-around final, Uchimura ended up winning by only .099 in a final in which both gymnasts were nearly flawless.

He said he is prepared for eventually coming up short. He brought up the long-undefeated Japanese wrestling star Saori Yoshida, who won 15 world titles and three consecutive Olympic titles before settling for silver in Rio.

"Of course [the winning streak] will stop," Uchimura said. "You saw Saori Yoshida lost right? But I'm not afraid of losing it. I thought that I lost all around final at Rio and I found myself thinking, 'It can't be helped even if I lose with my performance.'"

Uchimura said his decision to stay as an all-arounder involves staying focused only the details of his gymnastics instead of worrying about victory.

"So I found the clear solution like this, now I can believe in myself and just keep pursuing my gymnastics," he said. "From now on, I want to stick to the details and quality of my routine more than winning or losing. But I think it'll make myself get close to winning accordingly."

Uchimura recently left KONAMI, which had been his long-time sponsor, and signed a contract with an agent. He said he had considered the move after 2012 but stayed with KONAMI.

"Well, for the first time, after taking the gold medal at the London Olympics, the attention was getting really high," he said. "I thought that it's the right timing now [to go professional], but after that, I didn't know what to do, but I kept winning gold medals at the world championships... From January this year it started moving little by little, and professionals from other industries helped [including Japan footballers Shinji Okazaki and Yuto Nagatomo] and I signed a contract with an agency."

Despite Japan's rich history in gymnastics, Uchimura is the first Japanese gymnast to become a true "professional" athlete on par with the country's top stars in football, tennis, baseball and other professional sports.

"For sure, gymnastics – although the physical demand is also huge – is not a sport where you compete all the time; it is not a sport where you can earn a lot through competing," Uchimura said. "Although no one has done anything yet, I don't know the answer either. To find it by myself, I hope I can show that I am a professional figure."

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