Uchimura warns against China fixation

Japan superstar Kohei Uchimura has told his team-mates not to obsess about Olympic rivals China, after the two Asian powerhouses disappointed in men's artistic gymnastics qualifying.

Japan and China, the dominant force in Beijing in 2008, had been expected to fight it out for the major honours in London, but they were eclipsed by the United States, Russia and hosts Great Britain on Saturday's opening day.

Japan ended the day in fifth position in the overall team ranking, with reigning Olympic champions China one place below them in sixth.

With China having competed in the first qualifying session on Saturday morning, Japan knew about their rivals' travails when they emerged for the second session at the North Greenwich Arena, but still they struggled.

Uchimura's uneven display was emblematic of Japan's difficulties.

Tipped for gold in the men's individual all-around competition, the three-time world champion fell off the high bar and the pommel horse and left the arena with the ninth-highest individual score of the day.

The slates will be wiped clean when the teams resume hostilities in the team competition on Monday, and Uchimura says Japan cannot afford to be distracted by China again.

"We were all more or less thinking about how the Chinese were going to perform, so it might have affected our performance today," he said.

"From now on, we'll try not to think about how the Chinese team are going to do and just try to do our best."

Uchimura said he was "not worried" about his own performance levels, but conceded that improvements needed to be made.

"I'll try not to make any more mistakes," he said. "We'll practise tomorrow (Sunday), so I'll try to improve."

Such is the difficulty level of Uchimura's routines that he can usually afford to make mistakes and still record higher scores than most of his rivals.

His fall from the high bar was a bridge too far, however, and his score of 15.000 deprived him of a place in the event final.

Meanwhile, miscalculations elsewhere, coupled with better performances by his team-mates and rivals, mean that his only chances of individual gold now lie in the all-around event and on the floor.

Prior to the start of the Olympics, Uchimura insisted his primary motivation was ensuring Japan win the team gold, and team coach Takahiro Moriizumi said he remained a dedicated team-player.

"The thing with Uchimura is that everyone in the world thinks he is just interested in being a star, but we are all playing as a team," he said.

"We talk about this in our meetings. If someone makes a mistake, other people will cover, because we are competing as a team."

Japan and China will resume hostilities in the team competition on Monday, with the men's individual all-around title due to be contested on Wednesday.

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