By Gina Pongetti Angeletti

Unthinkable. To have a men’s all-around competition at a World event without Kohei Uchimura (JPN).

Feature photo by Grace Chiu

Unthinkable. To have a men’s all-around competition at a World event without Kohei Uchimura (JPN).

For the past eight years, he has secured his place in sports history time and time again, winning the AA at every world competition (2009-2015 World Championships and 2012 and ’16 Olympic Games).

An ankle injury on vault forced Uchimura to pull out of competition at the 2017 World Championships in Montreal earlier this week, subsequently making qualifying for AA finals not an option.  He dominated in Rio with one of the best nail-biters in the AA, edging out Oleg Verniaiev (UKR, silver medalist, AA 2016 Olympics) by 0.099 (92.365 to 92.266) – just under a hundredth of a point! Uchimura had final say with his night ending on high bar. He just needed to not make a major mistake, and it would be hard to see him not topping Verniaiev, who took a step on his landing. Seemingly, if the Ukranian star would have not taken that step, he would have won by the smallest margin in history…0.001. Alas, the reign of Japan’s superstar continued.

Surely Verniaiev came to Montreal with one goal, with three parts. First, to finally come out on top and prove himself after being second fiddle to Kohei last year. Second, simply to say he has an AA gold from Worlds.  Third, to redeem himself from the infamous step that he may never forget, like a football player’s missed field goal or a basketball star’s rimmed 3-pointer at the buzzer. Psychologically, like glue to a mind.

Now he has his chance. Qualifying in fifth position with a 85.431, he is still four spots removed from the top of the leaderboard. Manrique Larduet (CUB) sits in the lead with 86.699, Ruoteng Xiao (CHN) is just behind him in second, David Belyavskiy (RUS) in third less than a point out and Uchimura’s teammate Kenzo Shirai (JPN) 1.002 out of the lead in fourth. Chasing Verniaiev in sixth is China’s Chaopan Lin and behind him, up and coming Yul Moldauer from the USA, competing in his first World Championship.

Let’s go back to King Kohei for a minute. 19 World Medals will hang around his neck in his retirement articles or his medal-laden comeback photos later this year. After 13 seasons on the international scene (his first international meet was in 2005), it is unfathomable to know the AA final will not feature any of the King’s performances.

Paralleling Uchimura’s success and sports royalty level in Japan is similar to basketball’s Michael Jordan or football’s Manning brothers. They just seem to keep going, with the wide-spread support of their country. Endorsements, VIP treatment, government respect and a country’s adoration are what Uchimura carries with him.

So, is it Larduet’s time to shine? He is a man from a nation where government issues are frequent. Larduet’s sole presence for his country on the international gymnastics scene is inspiring.

Will Japan’s Shirai be able to handle the stress and expectations of being Japan’s best chance for carrying on the tradition of dominance?

Or will the fresh and young star Moldauer rise to the top as a quiet threat, putting the veterans on notice on the road to 2020?

Stay tuned!

Inside Gymnastics is on-site at the 2017 World Championships and will be bringing you non-stop coverage of the premiere competition of the year! Follow Inside Gymnastics (@insidegym) on social and bookmark on your desktop or laptop for previews, recaps, features, photos and more!