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Hashimoto Daiki: All for one, one for all

World and Olympic men’s gymnast Hashimoto Daiki, the star of the Tokyo Olympics, was eager to take home Japan’s team gold medal for the first time in eight years. At the World Championships in Antwerp in October, he also claimed two more golds.

Now a two-time world and Olympic champion, the men’s all-around gymnast has almost every individual accolade ever dreamed of in artistic gymnastics, at home and abroad. What has eluded the Japanese so far, however, is a gold medal in the team event – but that all changed on 3 October when Hashimoto put his country on the top step of the podium, beating favourites China.

“We have been saying for years that we want to win gold and we have fallen short every time,” Hashimoto said in the past after presenting his six routines for the World Championships, which run from 30 September to 8 October. “We have to succeed this time and use this momentum to go to Paris next year. All five of us understand the importance of this. Hopefully we can produce the right results to get people cheering for us next year.”

In a country where team competition in the tournament remains hugely popular and where success is celebrated with huge fanfare, it was the missing piece in the career of Hashimoto, who is still only 22. Japan last won Olympic gold medals in Rio 2016 and Athens 2004, with their most recent World Championship triumph dating back to 2015.

The result is all the more admirable because Hashimoto is coming off a brutal spring. In April, just before he won his third consecutive Japanese overall title, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his lower back at the start of the new year. A month later, Hashimoto, still nursing a broken back, won three titles, but failed to win the national final in June. This summer he has already claimed to be in better shape than he was a year ago before Liverpool, when he injured his wrist after overworking himself. For his team title glory, the gymnast has a truly great coach in Uchimura Kohei, the GOAT of men’s gymnastics, the only Japanese to have been both world and Olympic all-around champion. Uchimura, who retired last year after a career that saw him win 19 medals, including 10 world titles, has joined Hashimoto in Belgium as coach of the men’s team.

Uchimura made a huge impact during training for Daiki’s tournament. Uchimura, always a stickler for detail, was nonetheless markedly tight-lipped in navigating his protégé during the preparations: head coach Sato Hiroaki said the less advice was a sign of Uchimura’s faith and trust in Hashimoto, whom the champion had always praised – even before Hashimoto topped the Games podium two years ago. Uchimura, Sato added, provides Hashimoto with far less instruction than other gymnasts to deliberately put pressure on him. If Uchimura is the king, then Hashimoto is the prince of Japanese gymnastics today. And his ascension to the heir to the throne has only just begun, and will hopefully continue next year in Paris, the venue for Hashimoto’s second Olympic appearance.