The world’s greatest gymnast, and perhaps the best of all time, gave a rare detailed interview with the BBC, discussing sports legends and his future, among other topics.
Japan’s Kohei Uchimura became the first gymnast — man or woman — to win four world all-around championships in Antwerp, Belgium, last week. Uchimura, 24, has won every world and Olympic all-around title since 2009.
It’s a run of dominance matched by few, if any, athletes in any sport across the world. Uchimura said he was inspired by another man who is in the middle of a dominating run.
“Usain Bolt,” Uchimura said with an interpreter on hand. “He comes across all cool and says, ‘I am going to be a legend,’ and then he goes out and actually does it. I really admire that.”
Asked if Uchimura thought of himself as a legend, he laughed.
“I can’t say that myself!” he told the BBC.
Uchimura’s place in gymnastics history is debatable. Sure, he is the greatest of his generation. But all time? There are other contenders. Uchimura is a student of the sport. Asked who the best of all time is, he answered 1990s Belarusian great Vitaly Scherbo. Scherbo is the only gymnast to win six gold medals at a single Games, doing so at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics for the Unified Team.
Scherbo owns 10 career Olympic medals and 23 career World Championship medals. Uchimura is well behind with five Olympic medals and 13 worlds medals.
“To win six gold medals at a single Games is something that just isn’t normally possible, regardless of how the rules may have changed in the meantime,” Uchimura said. “To complete each individual event so perfectly could not have been possible without a huge amount of training and really strong mental, psychological control.”
Uchimura also reflected on Japan’s team silver medal at the 2012 Olympics. He almost cost his team a spot on the podium with a clumsy dismount of the final event, pommel horse. A video review and a .7 of a point scoring bump saved Japan from a fourth-place failure.
“At the time, I had spent my entire career striving for gold medals and so my first reaction was that it didn’t really make much difference whether we ended up second or fourth,” he told the BBC. “However, when I thought about it properly, we had all worked so hard to get there and I felt very sorry that I had reacted that way. If my mistake had cost everyone else their medals, that responsibility would have weighed on very heavily.”
Uchimura said a team gold medal at the 2016 Olympics is his next goal. Japan has won silver at his two Olympic appearances in 2008 and 2012 after taking gold without him in 2004.
He has also said he wants to compete through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when he will be 31.