IG POLL: IS UCHIMURA THE GREATEST?
AFTER Kohei Uchimura dominated the field in Tokyo to win his third consecutive world all-around title, talk emerged that he was the best male gymnast ever. So IG decided to solicit he opinions of various experts from dif- ferent eras and backgrounds. Following are their responses, including one from Uchimura himself.
ADRIAN STOICA (ROU/FIG-MTC President)
Kohei Uchimura is an exceptional gymnast, you
can say a phenomenon, but we need to take into
account he is still at the beginning of his brilliant
career, and maybe we need to wait a little bit more
for the moment!
ESPEN JANSEN (NOR/Gymnast)
There is and has been a lot of great gymnasts. Who
is the best through all time? I don’t want to rank.
But now Uchimura is the greatest and he will stay
as the best for many years.
PAUL ZIERT (USA/IG Publisher, Former Coach)
When discussing my “greatest of all times” in gymnastics, I rarely think of medal counts. It has always
been about the presentation, elegance and performances that touch my heart and/or take by breathe
away—virtuosity. Gymnasts like Nakayama, S.
Kato, Kasamatsu, Bilozerchev, Scherbo, Ivankov,
Nemov and now Uchimura all fall into my vision of
greatness. To pick one would be very difficult for
me, but if someone were to say, “I think Uchimura
is the greatest of all time,” I wouldn’t argue!
PAUL HALL (GBR/Coach)
I think he is the greatest so far! His AA performance in Tokyo was amazing to witness, with faultless landings and virtuous work across the six
pieces. I’ve watched quite a few competitions in
my career, but Tokyo was the first time that I saw
all of the coaches and gymnasts in the stadium give
a standing ovation as he nailed yet another high bar
dismount to complete such a memorable competition. True acknowledgement of a genius of our
sport, from all of his peers.
ABIE GROSSFELD (USA/Olympian, Olympic Coach)
For me, it’s premature to select Uchimura now.
Today’s gymnasts generally do more difficult skills,
due in large part to greater knowledge, better
equipment, and “the egg of Columbus” considera-
tion: “It’s easy when someone shows you how.”
In general, titles (competition placings) won can
be effectively compared, but eras shouldn’t be due
to reasons cited above. Longevity, opportunities
available, unusual circumstances could figure into
determining the greatest. Also, there are far fewer
AA gymnasts competing now. The following gym-
nasts have won three major all-around titles,
Viktor Chukarin was the first to win three major
AA: 1952 and ’ 56 Olympics; ’ 54 Worlds. He was
within a month or so of being 31, 33 and 35 when
he won, because of WW II where he had spent over
three years in a concentration camp.
Yang Wei won two Worlds and one Olympic AA
in three successive years.
Other great gymnasts: Eizo Kenmotsu’s 22
medals in Worlds and Olympics. Sawao Kato won
two Olympic AA titles and placed second AA in his
third Olympics. Nikolai Andrianov’s 15 Olympic
medals, with four individual Olympic gold in 1976,
not to mention his AA in Worlds. plus the many
medals he won there. (OK, his work wasn’t classical.). Vitaly Scherbo won five individual Olympic
golds in 1992 (a gymnastics record). He won the
1993 Worlds in AA, was second in ’91 and ’95, and
third in ’94, and third in the 1996 Olympics. Dmitry
Bilozerchev won four individual golds in 1983
when he was 16. Then, after a very serious leg
injury, came back and miraculously won the AA in
Concerning longevity greatness, Heikki
Savolainen won medals in five Olympic Games,
covering 24 years (missing two Olympics because
of WW II).
JIM HOLT (USA/National Men’s Coach, Scotland)
Kato-san, Sawao is the only gymnast in history
with 3 OG AA medals: 2 gold, 1 silver. Due to the
task demands of the sport during his era, he was
required to learn and master 6 new compulsory
routines every 4 years. His period of dominance in
the AA extended for almost a decade; if dominance
is too strong a word, let’s leave it as he was the
master of peaking at the absolute most important
time. His contemporaries were no slouches.
Kenmotsu, Endo, Tsukahara, Nakayama,
Kasamatsu, Honma, Kajiyama et al.
HARDY FINK (CAN/Former FIG-M TC President)
Absolutely! Kohei Uchimura is, and must be considered, the greatest male gymnast in history.
I have often tried to guess-timate who was the best
of all time and it has led, up to now, to Li Ning,
Bilozerchev, Kenmotsu, Andrianov and Scherbo, in
that order. This was related not only to results and
consistency, but also to the pure athleticism and
physical ability and technical ability and aesthetic
ability across all, or almost all, apparatus compared
with their peers.
But now, there can be no doubt that Uchimura
has earned that title and dwarfed the amazing performances of these past champions. I consider him
the best ever firstly because of the margins by
which he has won. But more than this, he is competing at a time when there are more participating
high level federations and when specialists have
made it virtually impossible for the all-around gymnast to contest for finals on some apparatus. But
even more impressive, and for me the deciding factor, is that he is competing at a time when the Code
of Points requires of the champion a display of
incredible difficulty but to do so with great stability
and great aesthetics and artistry. A true champion.
Truly, the greatest gymnast of all time.
FABIAN HAMBÜCHEN (GER/Olympian)
I definitely think that Kohei is the best gymnast of
all time! Other great gymnasts had been Scherbo,
Nemov and Tomita, but Uchimura is the best of all,
I think. He’s such a beautiful and strong gymnast.
He’s string on every event and that makes him
unique and magnificent. I have a lot of respect of
him and his attitude/mentality to the sport. No one
in gymnastics will forget him after his career.
ANTON GAJDOS (SVK/Gymnastics Historian)
Viktor Chukarin from the Soviet Union. There are
several reasons why I think that. On one hand it is
due to his gymnastics accomplishments (see
Grossfeld entry). On the other hand it is his personal life story, which is decisive in judging the greatness of his accomplishments. He spent 4 years in
the Sandbostel concentration camp during World
War 2, survived and became at age 31 the Olympic
winner in Helsinki 1952, which shocked the whole
IVAN CUK (SLO/Editor, Science of Gymnastics)
It is hard to compare old gymnasts with the present
ones. When comparing the best gymnasts ever, in
my opinion, Peter Sumi (YUG, 2 consecutive AA
world titles, 1922, 1926, in time when they competed gymnastics, track and field and swimming disciplines), Sawao Kato, Nikolai Andrianov, Vitaly
Scherbo, Yang Wei and Kohei Uchimura, a special
criteria is needed to prevail in favor of one gymnast. Is this [the length of] time of being world
champion? Is it the all around quality of their performance or all the titles they have earned (OG,
WC)? Virtuosity perhaps? I would say Uchimura
perhaps is not yet the best gymnast ever but is on a
good way to becoming that in the following years.
KOHEI UCHIMURA (JPN/3-time World Champion)
CHRISTIAN IVANOV (BUL/Olympian)
Three reasons why Uchimura could be considered
the best ever: 1) He is performing the highest level
of difficulty ever, under the toughest set of rules. 2)
Dominance and style. 3) He has won three world
AA titles in a span of two calendar years. So he
hasn’t had to compete against different generations
as in the past. With Uchimura being only 22, it is
scary to imagine what his overall record will be.
“That’s what everyone
will talk about, but I
don’t want to think
on whether he’s the best gymnast ever