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When Winning Doesn’t Get Old

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To find the last time Japan’s Kohei Uchimura didn’t win the all around gold medal at a major gymnastics competition you’d have to go back—way back—biblically back by gymnastics standards. All the way back to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Uchimura, in just his second year as a senior athlete, didn’t win the all around title at those Olympics games. He came in second.  

It was the last time anyone would beat him. Uchimura won the gold medal at every world championship (2009, 2010, 2011) leading up to the 2012 Olympics. He won the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic games. And then he won the world title again in 2013, marking his fifth consecutive world all-around title. Tonight in China, he will start the journey for his sixth.

To an athlete, winning never gets old. It’s the driving force that keeps many going, even if it’s been years since they last reached the top. To stand alone as the best, after years of soul (and bone) crushing work—there’s not a single way in life to duplicate the feeling (no matter how seriously you decide to take Fantasy Football). 

To the media, and even to fans, relentless winning can become an anti-climatic drag. When one team or one athlete keeps dominating year after year, stories aren’t as exciting; matches, games and competitions become more predictable; the race for minor medals becomes the dominant storyline. Everyone loves an underdog. Everyone loves a surprise. Roger Federer, Serena Williams, The Yankees in their heyday, the Lakers in the 80’s—each got nearly as much hate for winning as they did praise (and Serena and Roger are still winning). 

Dominance exhaustion is real. Particularly in a sport such as gymnastics, where there are so few competitions, it can begin to feel as though you’re watching the same meet on a constant loop. It can be argued that complete, utter, dominance can actually hurt a sport and isolate some fans.

But some athletes make their sport better by winning. Athletes whose victories electrify fan bases and make even the most fickle viewers  crave to see them keep on winning. Tiger Woods is one. Another is Kohei Uchimura. Uchimura has given gymnastics a true superstar with longevity—a long-term rooting interest in a sport where careers rocket upwards quickly and fizzle even faster.

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