Kohei Uchimura

Kohei Uchimura inspired by Olympic track and field legend, picks best gymnast of all time

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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.

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Laurie Hernandez explains wink, nervous Olympic moments in book excerpt

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09:  Lauren Hernandez of the United States prepares ro compete on the balance beam during the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Two of Laurie Hernandez‘s most memorable moments in Rio were mouthing “I got this” before her team final balance beam routine and winking at judges before her floor exercise.

The former became the title of her book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” due out Tuesday. The latter she also details in the book’s pages.

Hernandez, the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s, is the third member of the Final Five to pen a book.

Hernandez took team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, becoming the youngest individual U.S. Olympic gymnastics medalist since 1992 (Shannon Miller).

She then became the youngest winner of “Dancing with the Stars,” which she also reviews in the book.

Here’s an excerpt from “I Got This,” where Hernandez looks at her Rio Olympic experience:

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense. So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment. For me that moment happened during my floor routine in the team finals, just before we won. I spontaneously winked at one of the judges and everyone there, and at home, seemed to love that. But honestly I don’t know what came over me. Right before I went on, I was so nervous I looked at the team and said, “Guys, I’m so scared. It’s the last event, what if I mess up?” Any time you are competing as a team you have those worries—I know I had certainly felt the same way at international meets. Thankfully, the girls assured me that wasn’t going to happen. They said, “No, no, no, you’re fine. Don’t worry about it. We’re a few points ahead, so just go out there and enjoy yourself.”

I made my way toward the warm-up area. I was feeling pretty good by then, so I stood to the side and took a deep breath. I wanted to soak in everything around me, because it was definitely a major moment. I scanned the cheering crowd and all I saw was a sea of green. Brazil’s colors are yellow, blue, and green, and the entire arena was decked out in green. The mats were green, the logos were green, everything around me was green, and for a split second, I found it kind of intimidating because in the United States, all our equipment is blue. Even a seemingly small difference like that can be jarring.

Then all of a sudden I heard this beep. It was coming from the little TV screen in the warm-up area that lists your name, your country, and the event you’re about to compete in. My screen read Lauren Hernandez, USA, Floor Exercise. After I heard the beep, the screen switched to GO, which meant I had to go salute the judges and begin.

When I stood up on the floor, I could see one of the out-of-bounds judges in my line of vision. That is the judge who checks to make sure your foot never crosses over the white line. Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink. After I did that, I went on to do an amazing routine. When it was done, I was so proud of myself! Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone and Aly compete in their all-around finals and she said, “Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.” I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, “Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.” That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was “Oh my goodness.”

When I think back on the Olympics, there were only two times I was anxious for myself or for one of my teammates. In my beam routine, I always find the triple series (or what is called a flight series) a little nerve-racking. That’s when I have to perform three moves in a row backward: I do a back handspring, followed by a layout step-out, followed by another layout step-out. I had a good feeling before I was going to compete that I would hit it, but it’s something I’m always slightly worried about in the back of my mind. The other thing that had me holding my breath was Aly’s first tumble, because she does so much in that pass. I don’t think she’s ever worried about it, because in her head she’s doing everything she needs to do to execute it beautifully. But as you watch, there’s a lot going on, so you fear something might go wrong. She basically does a round off, a backward one-and-a-half twist, and then she steps out of that to connect to another round-off, a back handspring, and then she does this spring called a double Arabian and basically goes up in the air to do a half turn and double front flip connected to a front layout, which is a front flip with a straight leg where her whole body is open. It’s incredible! It’s so insane. It wows me every single time.”

MORE: Hernandez discusses her 2017 plans

Laurie Hernandez

How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday

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U.S. Figure Skating Championships coverage begins Thursday, live on NBCSN and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, starting at 5:30 p.m. ET.

The pairs and women’s short programs are scheduled in Kansas City.

The NBC Sports All-Access page will provide live scoring and more all week.

Pairs short program
5:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

Women’s short program
9:30 p.m.-midnight ET, NBCSN
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

In pairs, defending champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea take on a field including two-time Skate America silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier as well as 2014 Olympians Marissa Castelli and Nathan Bartholomay, each skating with different partners since Sochi.

The women are headlined by three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, seeking to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years at age 25.

She could be challenged by defending champion Gracie Gold, 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Skate America silver medalist Mariah Bell.

The pairs and women’s free skates will be Saturday, on NBC and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: Gracie Gold forgives herself, eight months after worlds failure