(AP) – Kohei Uchimura has nothing left to prove. The only question surrounding the effortlessly elegant 27-year-old is if he is the greatest male gymnast of all time.
Another Olympic all-around title to bookend the one the Japanese captured in London four years ago would settle the debate for now and perhaps for good. Yet Uchimura is far less concerned with adding to his ever-growing collection of personal bling — he's won a record six world championships to go with that Olympic gold — and more focused on helping his country return to the top of the podium.
Japan ended a lengthy losing streak to rival China when it triumphed at the 2015 world championships. Uchimura — who isn't ruling out sticking around until the 2020 Olympics back home in Tokyo — would love nothing more than to fill the one hole left on his peerless resume.
A few other things to look for when the men's competition in Rio de Janeiro gets underway on Aug. 7:
Uchimura's biggest challenge may come from 20-year-old Cuban Manrique Larduet. The powerful Larduet was a revelation at worlds last fall, finishing a surprising second behind Uchimura. Heady territory for a kid from Santiago on the southeastern Cuban coast, a good 500 miles from Havana.
Cuba has never won a medal at the Olympics in men's gymnastics, a drought Larduet could end if he can back up his bronze-medal winning performance on high bar at worlds. In an event that can best be described as gymnastics' answer to the Slam Dunk Contest, Larduet's daring, high-flying routine is a wonder.
Sam Mikulak has spent most of the last four years as easily the best American gymnast, reeling off four straight national titles with relative ease. Yet he's struggled to make an impact on the international level, his only medal coming as part of the U.S. team that won bronze at the 2014 world championships.
The 23-year-old moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center after graduating from Michigan but continues to be bothered by small mistakes — usually early in a competition — that force him to spend most of the meet playing catch-up. "It's time for me to show what I can do on the international stage," Mikulak said. "I think if I can go out there with my mind clear, I'll be OK."
LONG TIME COMING
Chris Brooks spent the overwhelming majority of his career pushed just off to the side, whether by injury or just enough mistakes in crucial moments to convince the U.S. national team selection committee to look elsewhere for help. Now the 29-year-old is center stage. Brooks put together a surprising run to a spot on the five-man U.S. squad along with Mikulak, Jake Dalton, Alex Naddour and Danell Leyva (filling in for an injured John Orozco) by finishing second at nationals and Olympic Trials.
An alternate on the Olympic team that faded to fifth in London in 2012, Brooks heads to Rio as team captain.
China's lengthy run at the top officially ended last October when it slipped all the way to third behind Japan and rising Great Britain, signaling an end to the Chinese's once easy dominance.
"It's a warning for all of us," Zhang Chenglong said. "Because it's a competition, there are always successes and failures. No one can be the forever winner."
Zhang is the only returning member of the 2012 team that won gold in London after five-time Olympic gold-medal winner Zou Kai's late bid to make the team was beset by injury.
Great Britain's Louis Smith on pommel horse. The event is 45 seconds of lactic-acid producing agony for most but Smith's powerfully graceful set stands out. While some of his competitors move their hands so quickly it's as if they're racing to get done, Smith takes this time. His athletic swoops from one side to the other are a picture of control.
The 27-year-old began the Brits' rise in international competition when he earned bronze on pommel horse in Beijing, the first Englishman to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics in a century. He picked up a silver on pommels in London, capping a triumph meet for the Brits, who edged the Ukraine for bronze in the team event.