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Comaneci: Uchimura is the best ever

When Japanese gymnast 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. According to gymnastics legend, Nadia Comaneci, it also made him the greatest male gymnast of all time.

Four years ago, after watching Uchimura’s gold-medal-winning display at London 2012, Comaneci still felt it was premature to hail him as the greatest; that despite the fact that he had also won an unprecedented hat-trick of world titles.

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However, 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,” the Romanian – herself once hailed as the greatest female gymnast of all time – asserted. “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 in Rio, 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.

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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 the best ever gymnastics competition in Olympic history,” claimed Comaneci. “There were five or six guys who could have won the gold,” added the Romanian, 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 Uchimura’s latest triumph, there were several other male gymnasts who could reasonably have claimed to be the greatest of all time.

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Kato came within one point of pulling off a treble of Olympic all around titles in 1976. And in the course of three Games, he scooped 12 medals, including eight golds. Then there is 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, with 15 Olympic medals including seven golds. And last but not least there is the 1992 all-around champion Vitaly Scherbo, who won an astonishing six golds in Barcelona.

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 mesmerises the audience with his sheer talent and powerful grace.

“His gymnastics is amazing,” concludes Comaneci. “Sometimes I look at his execution and there is absolutely no flaws, not a single one.”

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