LONDON (Reuters) - He is being hailed as Super-Mura, gobsmacked rivals say “he’s in a different world” and he has been untouchable as an all-around gymnast for four years - but is Kohei Uchimura the GOAT?
The ‘greatest of all time’ debate has been raging since Uchimura capped winning an unprecedented hat-trick of world titles with Olympic glory but Nadia Comaneci was quick to point out that people might be getting a little short-sighted.
Asked to name her top three male gymnasts, Comaneci took a long pause before saying: “I don’t know what to say. I’ve never thought about that.”
After taking a few more seconds to mull over the contenders, she added in a telephone interview with Reuters: “(Sawao) Kato was another great gymnast from Japan and I liked him a lot. I’d put (Nikolai) Andrianov in that mix too and Uchimura.”
As possibly the most famous athlete to emerge out of gymnastics, Comaneci’s observations are not baseless.
For Kato is the last gymnast, man or woman, to win successive Olympic all-around crowns and came within one point of pulling off a treble in 1976. Over three Games, he scooped 12 medals, including eight golds.
The Soviet Union’s Andrianov was the man who blocked Kato’s bid for a third all-around crown and went on to be the most decorated men’s gymnast of all time, collecting 15 medals with seven of them gold.
In contrast, Uchimura’s haul from two Games stands at a more meager four, with one solitary gold.
However, what Uchimura lacks in numbers, he more than makes up for with his style and elegance. He is the Roger Federer of the gymnastics world because every time he takes to an apparatus, he mesmerizes the audience with his sheer talent and powerful grace.
“People call him the greatest ever because of his unbelievable technique,” said Comaneci, who is still remembered for achieving the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics at the 1976 Montreal Games.
“If you look at gymnasts in slow motion, it’s usually not a good thing because you can see all their flaws and mistakes. But if you see Uchimura in slow motion, everything is perfect. He’s a gymnast who executes the code of points in gymnastics perfectly.
“He has artistry and skills in equal measure and overall, he’s a great artist in every sense.”
However, such artistry does not always translate into medals success.
Unlike Barcelona Games all-around champion Vitaly Scherbo, who won an astonishing six golds in 1992, the best Uchimura can hope for from London is two golds and a silver. With a team silver already, he has one more chance for success having reached only one of the six apparatus finals.
That chance will come on Sunday on the floor exercise final, where he will be up against four-times Olympic gold medalist Zou Kai of China.
“I’m not sure if he’ll be able to win gold in any of the apparatus finals. He didn’t have the top score in qualifying for any of the apparatus finals,” explained Comaneci.
“He was maybe second or third but there are a lot of specialists who have come here to win one or two of the apparatus finals.
“Uchimura does have high difficulty, unbelievable artistry but he does not pack his routines in with risky moves and unbelievable tricks like a specialist. That makes the difference between gold and no medal in the apparatus finals.”
Editing by Clare Fallon