The Volga showman
In the space of two Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000, Russian artistic gymnast Alexei Nemov managed a staggering haul of 12 medals, and he did so with a flamboyant style that established him as a firm favourite among gymnastics enthusiasts around the world.
The early years Alexei Yuryevich Nemov grew up in Tolyatti, on the banks of the River Volga, a city best known as the centre of the Soviet and Russian automobile industry. His mother first took him to gymnastics hall when he was six. Naturally gifted, Nemov was equally at home on every piece of apparatus, and was soon catching the eye of the national selectors. At the age of 16, he was chosen to represent Russia at the 1993 World Championships in Birmingham (GBR), where he finished fifth on floor.
Showtime in Atlanta Nemov’s elegance and agility thrilled the crowds. The love affair was reciprocal, as he loved to please the fans. During the 1996 Games in Atlanta, he won his first Olympic gold in the all-around team competition, before adding a silver in the individual all-around event, finishing just a 10th of a point behind China’s Li Xiaoshuang, the reigning world champion. He made up for that by claiming a second gold in vault, before adding three bronze medals, in the floor, horizontal bar and pommel horse. His six podium finishes made him the athlete with the biggest medal haul at Atlanta 1996.
Encore down under Following his exploits in Atlanta, Nemov sustained an injury and needed to undergo an operation on his shoulder in 1997. As a result, he began to struggle on apparatus such as the rings, on which he had previously shone. But that didn’t stop him from embarking on another medal-winning streak at Sydney 2000. After helping Russia to the team all-around bronze, he claimed the individual all-around gold that had eluded him four years earlier. That victory was a cause for double celebration, as his wife Galina had just given birth to their son, also called Alexei. A jubilant Nemov went on to treat the Australian public to a magnificent show on horizontal bar, conjuring a perfect dismount to seal another gold medal performance. And there were more podium finishes to follow: a silver on floor, and bronze medals on pommel horse and parallel bars, taking his tally to six once more. It meant that, the second Games in succession, Nemov had finished with more medals than any other athlete.
Crowd favourite In addition to a dozen Olympic podium finishes, between 1994 and 2003 Nemov amassed 13 medals in the World Championships (five of them gold). His final appearance at the Olympic Games came at Athens 2004 where he finished fifth in the horizontal bar, at which point he decided to call time on his competitive career. His popular appeal and place in the Olympic pantheon are assured thanks to the spectacular nature of his routines and his status as one of the 15 most “medalled” athletes in the history of the Games.