RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - When Kohei Uchimura stuck his landing without a wobble in sight from his high-flying, high-risk horizontal bar routine, it not only earned him a second successive Olympic all around gold, it also made him the greatest of all time.
That is according to Nadia Comaneci.
Four years ago, Comaneci felt it was premature to call Uchimura the ‘G.O.A.T’ even though the Japanese gymnast capped winning an unprecedented hat-trick of world titles with Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games.
But when Uchimura extended that run by capturing the next three world titles before becoming the first gymnast since compatriot Sawao Kato in 1972 to win back-to-back all around Olympic golds, Comaneci said the debate was over.
“Uchimura is the greatest of all time,” Comaneci told Reuters in an interview.
“Look what he’s achieved for such a long time. Undefeated for eight years (at world championships and Olympic Games). That’s his legacy.”
In a high-quality contest devoid of falls and spills by the top contenders, Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev led the standings from the third rotation and held a 0.901 of a point lead over the Japanese great ahead of their final apparatus.
It took a heart-stopping routine to finally lift “Supermura” above the chasing pack — by a razor-thin 0.099 of a point.
It was a margin that also decided if Uchimura — the owner of a record six successive world all around titles — was the G.O.A.T.
“It was the best ever gymnastics competition in Olympic history. There were five or six guys who could have won the gold,” said Comaneci, who remains the sport’s most celebrated champion 40 years after achieving the first perfect 10 at the Olympics.
“Hence Uchimura had to take risks in that high bar routine... and to deliver that in the last apparatus under so much pressure was really, really amazing.
“He stuck the landing and if he had even the slightest wobble, he would have lost the gold and we would still have been debating if he was the greatest.”
Until Wednesday there were several other gymnasts who could claim to be the G.O.A.T.
Kato came within one point of pulling off a treble of Olympic all around titles in 1976. Over three Games, he scooped 12 medals, including eight golds.
The Soviet Union’s Nikolai 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 Olympic medals with seven of them gold.
There was also Barcelona Games all-around champion Vitaly Scherbo, who won an astonishing six golds in 1992.
In contrast Uchimura has only three golds among his seven Olympic medals from three Games.
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.
“His gymnastics is amazing. Sometimes I look at his execution and there is absolutely no flaws, not a single one,” gushed Comaneci.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Brian Homewood