Teenage sensation Kakeru Tanigawa was hailed Monday after becoming Japan’s youngest national gymnastics champion and crushing superstar Kohei Uchimura’s attempt for an 11th straight title.
The 19-year-old university student scored 172.496 points to earn the victory at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Sunday. Uchimura, the two-time Olympic individual all-around gold medalist, scored 171.664.
Kenzo Shirai, the world champion in the floor and vault, was runner-up at 172.164.
At 19 years and two months, Tanigawa became Japan’s youngest national champion. Naoya Tsukahara, a member of Japan’s gold-winning team at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was previously the youngest, claiming the crown in 1996 when he was 19 years and four months.
“I still can’t believe it. Uchimura-san had been Japan’s top gymnast and I’ve respected him so I didn’t think I can beat him,” said Tanigawa, who stands just 1.53 metres tall. “I tried to pull off all of my routines as I usually do without giving them much thought, and the score just followed.”
"It's like a dream."
Uchimura said he was not downhearted and aims to compete in his home country's Olympics in 2020.
“Staying in the national team will lead me to the Tokyo Olympics,” Uchimura said. “I want to be a team member even if I am out of form.”
Uchimura, 29, suffered a torn ligament in his ankle at last October’s artistic gymnastics world championships in Montreal and only returned to competition last month.