Japan's gymnastics legend falls to floor in final Olympics moment

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For once, the silence of an empty arena fit the moment.

Kohei Uchimura, a four-time Olympian and one of the most beloved athletes in Japan, was on the high bar, executing a highly complex series of maneuvers during a qualifying event. As he was nearing the end of his most challenging routines, one hand slipped, and he plummeted to the mat below. The fall ended any chance Uchimura might have had of medaling in his home country, and he — and the few dozen people around the Ariake Gymnastics Centre watching — knew it. 

Uchimura, 32, did not qualify for the finals in the high bar, his only event at the Tokyo Games. He is not part of Japan's team competition. 

"I couldn't perform what I have practiced," he said. "That's how, I simply think. In the last three Olympic Games I could perform what I practiced. But I couldn't do that at these Olympics."

For more than a decade, Uchimura has been a dominant figure in men's gymnastics. From 2009 to 2016, he captured every possible all-around title at the world championships or the Olympics. His gold medals in London and Rio made him the first male gymnast to successfully defend his all-around title in 44 years. He also won silver in the all-around in Beijing in 2008.

Overall, Uchimura is a seven-time Olympic medalist, with three golds and four silvers, and a 21-time world medalist. He's the first gymnast, male or female, to win every major all-around competition in an entire Olympic four-year cycle. 

On Saturday, Uchimura spent a long time on the mat, then breathed deep and ascended to the high bar once again to finish out his routine. Afterward, he was asked whether this was his final competition. 

"No, but, I don't know," he said. "Let me think about it when I go back to the accommodation."

But both his body language and the realities of a youth-driven sport pointed toward an answer.

Kohei Uchimura after falling. (Iris van den Broek/BSR Agency/Getty Images)
Kohei Uchimura after falling. (Iris van den Broek/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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