Kazuma Kaya

Is Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura done with gymnastics? Maybe not.

Oh, the shifting fortunes of Japanese men’s gymnastics!

The talented Kakeru Tanigawa won the prestigious NHK Cup -- and a spot on Japan’s men’s world team -- Sunday in Tokyo, scoring a respectable 84.098 in the all-around. That score, added to his scores from capturing his second Japanese national title last month (where he averaged around 85 points in the all-around) easily gave the 20-year-old the NHK title, only 0.2 ahead of his older and slightly better known brother Wataru.

Kakeru Tanigawa earned his second Japanese at

Kakeru Tanigawa earned his second Japanese at

Kazuma Kaya, the 2015 world bronze medalist on pommel horse, finished third in the NHK rankings. All three have qualified to compete as part of Japan’s world team for October’s World Championships in Stuttgart, the last major global event before the Tokyo Olympic Games, with two more to be added closer to the event.

The younger Tanigawa’s accolades, which include being Japan’s youngest ever national champion, have gone a bit under the radar due to the star power of Japan’s men’s team, led by two-time Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura and twistmaster Kenzo Shirai.

But recent results have thrown the established hierarchy into turmoil: Uchimura came to last month’s Japanese Championships injured and had the worst meet of his career, falling several times to finish 37th, missing the cut for the all-around final for the first time since his debut as a 16-year-old in 2005. A photo of Uchimura clutching his left shoulder in agony after a fall off the parallel bars remains the enduring image of the competition.

Kohei agony.JPG

Shirai, dealing with a foot injury, didn’t fare much better, finishing 30th all-around, or dead last among the finalists. Uchimura did not compete Sunday, though not exactly by choice: only the top 30 in the all-around from the Japanese Championships qualified to compete at the NHK Cup.

This is a strange turn of events for the Japanese, and gives them an unusual problem to deal with as their first home Summer Olympics in 56 years approaches. Shirai and especially Uchimura have underpinned the team with fabulous results and incredible performances. But Uchimura, now 30, and Shirai, now struggling with an injury that limits him on his best events, are no longer the ones delivering the highest quality performances -- not even close -- though they remain among the faces of the sport.

So if you’re deciding who you put on your world and Olympic teams, where do they factor in?

Uchimura may make it easier to solve the problem than it seems. Saying he finished in 37th place at the Japanese Championships smarts, but the reality is that he only trailed Tanigawa by five points. Had he simply stayed on the apparatus, he’d have at least three of those points back, which would have stood him in the middle of the pack among the finalists. From there, it’s a much smaller jump to being among the major team contenders.

“I don’t have any feelings of frustration,” Uchimura told the media afterwards. Training before the event had not gone particularly well either, it seems. “I mentioned a few times that you can’t compete what you can’t do in training, yet I somehow fell into that situation.”

With two Olympic all-around titles and GOAT status, Uchimura has already lived a thrilling life in gymnastics. His is a rare career even by the standards of the great champions. All that he needs to pad his legend now is a nice comeback tale, and with his results this spring, he’s certainly given himself the opportunity for that.

Play-by-Play: 2019 Birmingham World Cup, Men's All-around Final

Nikita Nagornyy of Russia.

Nikita Nagornyy of Russia.

Rotation 1:

Ooh, in England, we compete in the dark, apparently. The British do seem to love a darkened gymnastics arena.

Jamie Lewis (GBR), FX: The last minute replacement for Brinn Bevan here, his first senior world cup. Full twisting double layout, a little piked, step forward. Crashes double double tucked second pass. 2.5 to front half, piked. 2/1. Triple full, gets it around. 12.266.

Joe Fraser (GBR), PH: Nile Wilson’s replacement here. Two scissor to handstands, moving well so far. Small form break before the dismount. Well done overall. 13.933.

Nikita Nagornyy (RUS), FX: Fantastic triple back tuck, steps back and out. Double front pike half out. Front 2/1 to double front, stuck, wonderful. 2.5 to front 1/1 to front layout half. Double double tuck as a side pass — whenever a gymnast can pull a double double side pass — where many gymnasts do double fulls — you know you’re dealing with a potential world floor champion. Finally, full out tuck. Packed routine. 14.366.

Christian Baumann (SUI), PH: Comes off on a Busnari, made it look like a dismount. Was going well before that, and went well after it, apart from a leg break on Russians late in the routine. 12.0.

Allan Bower (USA), FX: Double front pike. Double double tuck, bouce back. Front 2/1 to front half. 2/1. 1.5 to front 1/1. 2.5, stuck. He’s worked hard at cleaning up his form at Oklahoma, and it shows here. 13.666.

Bart Deurloo (NED), PH: Hit routine for Bart! Since his slow start at the American Cup, he’s gotten better and better — more determined, too. 13.4.

Petro Pakhnuik (UKR), FX: Double double tuck, nearly bounds out of bounds going backward. Randi, a little short. Front 2/1 to front 1/1. 2.5, hop forward. Double full, stuck. Nice Russians. Triple full, low landing, hop forward, but gets it done. 12.7.

Kazuma Kaya (JPN), PH: Flairs, Magyar, Scissors, circles on one pommel. Russians. Handstand full pirouette dismount. Hit routine! 13.8.

Sun Wei (CHN), FX: Front double pike, deep landing, hop back. Double layout, hop back. 2.5 to front layout half. Front 1/1 to Rudi. Triple full, bounce back. Some impecisions on the landings, but not bad overall. 13.566.

Rotation 2:

Christian Baumann (SUI), SR: Maltese, a little difficult, I’d say. Planche, definitely difficult for him. Press handstand. Front giant. Giant. Piked Yama, tucked Yama to straddle planche. Balance check in handstand before double double tuck that he pancakes on the mat. Oof. Not a great routine, but this is not a good event for him. 12.166 as he massages his shoulders in the kiss and cry.

Nikita Nagornyy (RUS), PH: Gets through it. A touch of leg form here and there. Quick quick on his dismount, but we’ve seen worse. 13.233.

Bart Deurloo (NED), SR: Iron cross. Planche. Piked Yama to hesitating handstand. Tucked Yama. Double double tuck, small shuffle. Again, better than he’s been. 13.1.

Allan Bower (USA), PH: Long, intricate routine. Concentrated set, hit routine. 14.2.

Kazuma Kaya (JPN), SR: Hit routine capped with beautiful double double layout dismount. Very nice! Kaya’s always been great on pommel horse, but here he shows improvement in his lines. Is it possible for a man to be graceful on rings? Yes. 14.133.

Petro Pakhniuk (UKR), SR: Scissors to handstand, one pommel work. Leg separations on Russians and as usual, his non-dismount, but he stayed on, so that’s something. 13.266.

Joe Fraser (GBR), SR: Roll to cross. Maltese. Pull to cross. Tucked Yama to pike Yama to straddle planche. Front giant. Giant. Double double tuck, step back. Joe, a Birmingham native performing before his home city, looks happy. 13.1.

Sun Wei (CHN), PH: Unlike most of the crowd here, he gets through his entire routine without making a major break. Good for him! 14.933.

Jamie Lewis (GBR), PH: Slow through the Busnari but great flairs, which the crowd loves. Extremely slow press to handstand to end, but he made it! That’ll be his victory today. “He’s growing into the competition,” Olly Hogben says, and that puts it well. 13.666.

Rotation 3:

Bart Deurloo (NED), VT: Tsuk 2.5 with a fairly big step forward. 14.166.

Allan Bower (USA), SR: Maltese. Roll to cross. Kip to Maltese. Tucked Yama to piked Yama to straddle planche. Front giant. Full twisting double layout (piked, some form in the air.) 12.5.

Kazuma Kaya (JPN), VT: Tsuk 2.5, low off the table and stumbles backwards but keeps it on his feet. Lets off a good-natured shrug as he walks off. Us too, Kazuma. 13.9.

Petro Pakhniuk (UKR), SR: Maltese. Iron cross. Piked Yama to tucked Yama to straddle planche. Front giant. Double front pike, hop forward. 13.566.

Joe Fraser (GBR), VT: Tsuk 2.5 with a little hop backward, one foot out. Not bad. 14.166.

Sun Wei (CHN), SR: Planche. Maltese. Maltese again. Tucked Yama, piked Yama, roll to iron cross. Press handstand. Giant. Double double tuck, small hop forward. 13.833.

Christian Baumann (SUI), VT: DTY, nearly stuck, finally emits a small hop forward. 14.066.

Jamie Lewis (GBR), SR: Planche. Piked Yama, tucked Yama, done with all the ease and enthusiasm of youth. Front giant. Great double double tuck dismount, stuck! Jamie’s smile after that could light the arena. 13.333.

Nikita Nagornyy (RUS), SR: Roll to Maltese. Pop to second Maltese, drops to iron cross, opens his hands. Piked Yama to tucked Yama to iron cross. Straddle planche. Front giant. Double double tuck, small hop back. The class of the field so far, without a doubt. 14.233.

Rotation 4:

Petro Pakhniuk (UKR), VT: Tsuk 2.5 with a step forward. Quite clean in the air. 14.266.

Kazuma Kaya (JPN), PB: Front somie. Inside Diamidov. Peach half. Peach. Front straddle somie to shoulders. Bhavsar. Tippelt. Back tos 1/4 to single bar work. Uprise to double front half out, small hop/step on landing. Very nice. 14.566.

Sun Wei (CHN), VT: Hands down on undercooked Tsuk triple full. 13.566 loses him some ground.

Joe Fraser (GBR), PB: Very nice exercise that had the crowd on tenterhooks all the way through. Dismounts with double front half out with a small step to the side. Joe acquits himself well. 14.3.

Jamie Lewis (GBR), VT: Tsuk 2.5 with a step forward, good distance from the table. Excellent in the air, too. 14.233.

Christian Baumann (SUI), PB: The Swiss on his best event. Peach mount. Front somie, small hesitation going to the hanstand. Inside Diamidov. Bhavsar. Tippelt. Lovely line on this event. Stutz. Uprise double front half out, small hop. 14.166.

Nikita Nagornyy (RUS), VT: Fantastic Dragulescu, nearly stuck. A little cowboyed in the air, but so impressive all the same. 14.9.

Bart Deurloo (NED), PB: Peach. Cut and catch work, cool. Loses it on inside Diamidov, whoops. That will hurt the score. Back toss quarter turn, one bar work. Double pike with a step back.

Allan Bower (USA), VT: Tsuk 2.5, form in the air but good landing. Needs to work on straightening his legs, elongating his lines.

Rotation 5:

Joe Fraser (GBR), HB: Yama. Cassina. Kolman. One arm giant. Tak full, good. Stalders. Double double layout, great landing, call it a stick. What’s unusual is he does both twists on the double double in the second flip. 13.9.

Sun Wei (CHN), PB: Peach half. Peach. Giant. Front straddle somie. Bhavsar, traveling the length of the p-bars, impressive. Tippelt, again great distance. Inside Diamidov. Double front half out, knees totally together, excellent, just a hop forward. 14.566.

Christian Baumann (SUI), HB: Yama. Layout Tkatchev. Stalder hop 1.5. Hop 1.5. Endos. Stalder. A bit pikey on his double double layout, but a fair landing, just a small step forward. 13.866.

Jamie Lewis (GBR), PB: Comes off on his first element, a peach. He’s not had the easiest debut here, but he’s a first year senior, and he only got the call up to compete here a few days ago. So. Shows what he’s capable of throughout the rest of the routine. Double pike dismount with a step back. 11.9.

Bart Deurloo (NED), HB: Tak half, small hesitation. Cassina, legs a tad bent. Kovacs. Kolman. Tak full (legs), to Yama. Stalder. Hop full. Double double layout with just a small step forward. 13.8.

Nikita Nagornyy (RUS), PB: Front flip. Peach to English handstand, held not quite long enough. Peach half, good. Inside Diamadov to half to Diamadov to Diamidov 1.5, excellent. Finally double front half out with a hop forward. Like Artur Dalaloyan, Nagornyy sets himself apart with his skill selection. He doesn’t do the exact same moves as everyone else. And it’s great. 14.933.

Kazuma Kaya (JPN), HB: Tak half. Layout Tkatchev. Tkatchev. Hop full. Tak full to Yama, well done. German giant, a bit labored coming out of it. Double double layout, hop back. 13.966.

Allan Bower (USA), PB: Front flip. Peach, struggles to get to handstand. Geinger. Inside Diamidov. Diamidov. Front straddle somie. Stutz, again a shadow of a struggle. Double pike, step to the side. 12.9.

Petro Pakhniuk (UKR), PB: Front flip. Peach half. Giant. Peach. Diamidov. Front straddle somie. Inside Diamidov. Back toss quarter. Double front half out, small hop. 14.766.

Rotation 6:

Jamie Lewis (GBR), HB: Yama. Tkatchev. Great extension in Endos. Tak half. Stalder. Full twisting double layout with a step. 12.833.

Christian Baumann (SUI), FX: Randi. 2.5 to front layout, hop. Arabian double front. Double full, stuck. A little tired in his flairs after several good tumbling passes. Triple full, large step to the side/forward. Not easy ending on floor. 12.533.

Nikita Nagornyy (RUS), HB: Needs six points to go into the lead. Layout Tkatchev. Layout Tkatchev half. Tak full, exactly right. Tak hafl, a little wild. Tkatchev. Tkatchev half. Stalder. Hand down on underrotated double double layout dismount. Oops. Not the way to finish the day, but his lead is likely to cover him, especially since Sun Wei did something similar on vault. His first five were awesome. 13.2.

Bart Deurloo (NED), FX: Double front half out, small shuffle back. Whip half to front 2/1. 1.5 to front 1/1. 2.5 to front layout half. Arabian double front, hop forward. 13.9.

Allan Bower (USA), HB: Yama. One armed giant. Tak full. Kovacs. Tkatchev. Endo. Stalder. Full twisting double layout, a tad piked in the air but stuck. 13.266.

Kazuma Kaya (JPN), FX: Great opening front double tuck half out. Front double pike. Front 2/1 to front 1/1. Double full. 2.5 to front layout half. Just the dismount: triple full, stumbles forward and puts his hand down. Ah, too bad! 13.366.

Petro Pakhniuk (UKR), HB: German giant. Tkatchev. Tkatchev half. Tak full. Tak half. Hop full. Full twisting double layout with a hop. Pakhniuk is pleased with his day. 13.766.

Joe Fraser (GBR), FX: Double double tuck, well controlled. Front 2/1 to front layout half. 2.5 to Rudi, small hop. Double full. Full twisting double tuck, done from a roundoff and stuck cold. Great way to end his day in Birmingham! 13.866.

Sun Wei (CHN), HB: Tak full. Layout Tkatchev to Tkatchev half. Tak half. Layout Tkatchev half. Yama. Double double layout, very clean, just a tiny hop forward. A medal for sure! 14.266 is good for silver.

GOLD - Nikita Nagornyy, RUS, 85.065
SILVER - Sun Wei, CHN, 84.73
BRONZE - Kazuma Kaya, JPN, 83.731
4 - Joe Fraser, GBR, 83.265
5 - Petro Pakhniuk, UKR, 82.33
6 - Allan Bower, USA, 80.898
7 - Bart Deurloo, NED, 80.532
8 - Christian Baumann, SUI, 78.797
9 - Jamie Lewis, GBR, 78.231