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Buenos Aires 2018

‘The new Uchimura’ steps out of the shadows

Few athletes at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 are generating quite as much expectation as 15-year-old Japanese gymnast Takeru Kitazono, who has been compared in his home country to the great Kohei Uchimura. 


Few athletes at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 are generating quite as much expectation as 15-year-old Japanese gymnast Takeru Kitazono, who has been compared in his home country to the great Kohei Uchimura.

Such is the buzz around Kitazono that he has the Japanese media following his every step in the Argentinian capital. The teenager has been dubbed “Kohei Number Two” after his fabled compatriot, a three-time Olympic gold medallist and six-time world all-around champion who is widely regarded as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time.

For many, the pressure of following in such famous footsteps would be overwhelming. Yet despite his young age, Kitazono is doing his very best to remain calm.

“I’m really happy that people are talking about me like this and are calling me the second Kohei,” said the up-and-coming gymnast. “I don’t feel any extra pressure, but of course I know people expect me to do well. Kohei certainly is a role model for me. I look up to him. One day, I want to achieve what he has. But there is still a long way for me to go.”

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A silver medallist at the 2017 Junior Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships, Kitazono had his first outing at Buenos Aires 2018 on Sunday 7 October, when he finished first in the pommel horse qualification round. Impressed by his surroundings at the America Pavilion in the Youth Olympic Park, he said: “I’ve never competed in an arena that big before. I felt a bit nervous when we walked in, but I settled down as soon as I started to compete. “If you’re nervous during a competition, it means that you haven’t trained enough. The best way to avoid that mental stress is just to keep on training every day. Now I just hope all my hard work will pay off, as I really want to enjoy that sense of satisfaction.” 

Kitazono took up the sport at the age of three, when he discovered a gymnastics club near his house. “I saw it and thought, ‘I want to go there’,” he recalled. “My mum enrolled me in some gymnastics classes and I’ve been dreaming ever since of competing at the big events. Gymnastics is my life, and I am really enjoying it. To be honest, there is no me without artistic gymnastics.”

If I can win at Buenos Aires 2018, I can win in Tokyo  Takeru Kitazono Japan

Just being able to compete at Buenos Aires 2018 is a dream come true in itself for the Japanese teenager, who was struggling with injury during qualifying for the YOG. “I fractured my ankle after a bad landing during training in 2017,” Kitazono explained. “I was still struggling with it at our national trials for the Youth Olympic Games, but it feels better now. It feels great to be here and I hope I leave Buenos Aires on a high. Of course my main goal is Tokyo 2020, but I see this as a huge opportunity, a first big step towards the main goal, which is to win gold in Tokyo. If I can win at Buenos Aires 2018, I can win in Tokyo.”

If Kitazono can back up that kind of talk with gold medals, then the lofty comparisons with the great Uchimura will prove to have been justified.

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