Tsukahara, 37, still chases Olympic dream

Tsukahara, 37, still chases Olympic dream
Naoya Tsukahara during the 2014 Commonwealth Games

More than a decade has passed since Naoya Tsukahara was a member of the Japanese men's gymnastics team that won a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The only member of that team still competing, the 37-year-old aims to return to the Olympics, but with a twist.

Should Tsukahara appear at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, it will not be in a Japanese uniform. He will be wearing the colors of his adopted homeland of Australia.

"I still haven't put together a performance that I can be satisfied with," said Tsukahara as he began a new season as a world-class gymnast with his first training early last month.

"This is the start," Tsukahara said, referring to the path to obtaining a berth in Rio.

To give himself the chance to appear in the Olympics again, Tsukahara acquired Australian nationality in 2013.

He competed for Australia at the 2014 world championships, where the squad finished 26th in the qualifying round of the men's team event.

As only the top 24 teams in that meet earned spots at this year's world championships, to be held in Glasgow in October and which will also serve as an Olympic qualifying event, the door to the Rio Olympics was closed to the Australian team.

Tsukahara's only hope now is to qualify in individual events.

The first hurdle he must get over is to achieve high scores in the Australian championships to be held in May. He has been practicing particularly hard on raising his level of performance in the floor exercise, which is his weakest event.

As a veteran, it takes Tsukahara more time to recover from fatigue.

Compared to his training regimen during his university days, he has almost halved his practice time, and he also finds it difficult to maintain his concentration for long periods.

Tsukahara also helps mentor younger gymnasts, leading him to wonder if he should put his own Olympic ambitions aside.

"For Australia's future, it might be better if the younger guys compete [in Rio]," he said.

Even so, Tsukahara has never wavered from his principle that "gymnastics is a world without an end, so I'd like to continue."

Over the years, Tsukahara's concept of the ideal performance has become more sophisticated, but he still doggedly pursues it.

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