NANNING, China (AFP) – Japan’s Kohei Uchimura is aiming to extend his five-year reign in gymnastics, while hosts China are set for a unprecedented sixth straight men’s team gold at the world championships.
In the women’s competition, Simone Biles is seen as a shoo-in to win back-to-back all-around crowns, and spearheads the US bid for a third straight women’s global team gold on top of their 2011 world and 2012 London Olympics titles.
After four days of qualifying sessions, the 10-day competition swings into the men’s team final on Tuesday followed by the women’s, and then individual all-around and event apparatus contests at the Guangxi Gymnasium in the southern China city of Nanning.
Points in the qualifying round do not count toward the finals.
The 25-year-old “King Kohei” Uchimura will go for a record-stretching fifth straight world all-around title, to add to his 2012 Olympic gold.
But his concerns were for his country rather than himself after Japan made several major mistakes and placed second behind China, also the 2008 and 2012 Olympic champions, in the men’s qualifying round.
“I feel we are not still there yet. We want to refocus ourselves and make the best of what we have in the team final,” said Uchimura.
He topped the all-around table at 92.165 points, with 2013 European all-around champion David Belyavskiy of Russia second at 90.748 and China’s national champion Deng Shudi third at 90.630.
“Since we are on home ground, the athletes are a little bit nervous. We’ll adjust ourselves and I believe all of us will deliver great performances in the finals,” said Chinese men’s team captain Zhang Chenglong, the 2010 world high bar champion and one of the 2012 Olympic team gold medallists.
The 25-year-old cited Japan as main rivals, noting their triumph over China at the recent Asian Games in South Korea, although both sent second-string teams.
“The competition between first-row teams is different … We have a fair chance to compete here,” Zhang said.
China, renowned for an array of event specialists, also face such recent medal contenders as Britain, Germany and the United States in the men’s team event of eight top finishers in qualifying.
Apart from Deng, Zhang and 2013 world parallel bars champion Lin Chaopan, China feature young talent.
Japan won the 2004 Olympic team gold when China finished fifth, but have not triumphed at the worlds since 1978, finishing second behind China in their last three encounters.
Uchimara has remained unstoppable since the retirement of China’s Yang Wei, the 2006 and 2007 world all-around champion, who beat the Japanese for gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
He is the only gymnast, male or female, ever to win four world all-around titles and the only to win the honour for three times or more in a row.