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May 30, 2017

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Japan's Watanabe is new world gymnastics chief

TOKYO -- Japan's Morinari Watanabe beat French rival Georges Guelzec Wednesday to become the new head of world gymnastics.

Watanabe, a former gymnast, succeeds Italy's Bruno Grandi as president of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), said a spokesman for the Japan Gymnastics Association.

The 57-year-old will be the first Japanese person to sit in the top post after beating out Guelzec, who is head of the European Union of Gymnastics.

The vote was held in Tokyo, which is hosting the 2020 Olympics.

"Gymnastics is not just a sport that is popular in the Olympics. It is now and will always be the 'king of sports'," Watanabe said after his election, according to the spokesman.

Watanabe also said he wants to boost the popularity of gymnastics globally by promoting sports-linked businesses.

He joined the Japanese Gymnastics Association in 2001 — he is currently its secretary-general — with the mission of reviving the country's program after athletes came home without a medal from the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.

Japan have won medals in gymnastics at every Games since.

Watanabe also headed the organizing committees of the 2009 Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in western Japan and the 2011 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Tokyo.

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