Kohei Uchimura

Kohei Uchimura, greatest ever after 5th World Championship?

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Japan’s Kohei Uchimura won his fifth straight World all-around title in Nanning, China, on Thursday, adding to a trophy case that rivals and perhaps trumps the greatest gymnasts of all time.

Uchimura, also the 2012 Olympic all-around champion, was the only gymnast to score at least 15 points on all six apparatuses for the fourth straight Worlds. He totaled 91.965 points. He is the only male or female gymnast to win more than three World all-around titles.

“I have never thought the competition is getting any easier,” Uchimura said. “The competition is simply a reflection of my daily training, so I think that what I am trying to do is consider how I can put my best training results into my competition performances in a perfect manner.”

Great Britain’s Max Whitlock won silver, 1.492 behind. Whitlock didn’t originally qualify for the all-around final but got in the field when another British gymnast pulled out.

Japan’s Yusuke Tanaka won bronze. Uchimura has shared the World all-around podium with a different teammate each of the last three Worlds.

Americans Sam Mikulak and Donnell Whittenburg were 12th and 17th, respectively.

Mikulak fell on parallel bars and was out of bounds on his vault. The London Olympian and two-time P&G Championships all-around winner was second in all-around qualifying in 2013 and in position for a medal going into the final rotation last year before a high bar mistake.

The Worlds rookie Whittenburg, who was fourth in qualifying in Nanning, put his hands down and was off the mat on his vault landing and had problems on pommel horse.

“I had a rough night, but it’s just great to be out here with all of the best guys in the world,” Whittenburg said in a USA Gymnastics interview. “It definitely was an eye opener of what possibilities I can achieve for myself and what I have to look forward to.”

It’s the first time a U.S. man hasn’t finished in the top 10 in a Worlds or Olympic all-around since 2006.

Back to Uchimura. We wrote this perspective last year, but it’s worth mentioning again:

How dominant has Uchimura been at the World Championships and the Olympics?

In 2009, Uchimura won by 2.575 points — the margin separating second place from eighth place.

In 2010, Uchimura won by 2.283 points — the margin separating second place from 13th place.

In 2011, Uchimura won by 3.101 points — the margin separating second place from 14th place.

In 2012 (Olympics), Uchimura won by 1.659 points — the margin separating second place from eighth place.

In 2013, Uchimura won by 1.958 points — the margin separating second place from eighth place.

In 2014, Uchimura won by 1.492 points — the margin separating second place from seventh place.

Whitlock said it was “an absolute honor” to finish second to Uchimura.

“Kohei is quite over our head at the moment as you saw by the scores today,” he said.

Russia’s David Belyavskiy finished fifth on Thursday and was asked what it will take to beat Uchimura.

“As yet we do not have an answer to that question,” he said. “If we knew how to do it we would to it.”

Uchimura is 25 years old. The three Olympic all-around champions in 2000, 2004 and 2008, before Uchimura began his reign, were 24, 21 and 28 years old. Uchimura would be right in the middle of his prime, based off those statistics.

Many say Uchimura is already the greatest gymnast of all time.

“Compared with the title, the best gymnast in the world, what I’m care about is that I can deliver a good performance to win the championship that convinced all the people, including myself,” Uchimura said. “That would be the happiest thing for me.”

Uchimura said last year that Belarus’ Vitaly Scherbo is the greatest.

Scherbo is the only gymnast to win six gold medals at a single Olympics, doing so at the 1992 Barcelona Games 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 15 Worlds medals.

Uchimura can chip away and pass Scherbo, though, given he has said he wants to compete through the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. One thing Scherbo could not accomplish was to win multiple Olympic all-around titles, which no man has done since 1972. Uchimura clearly looks like a favorite to successfully defend his London 2012 title in Rio in two years.

Uchimura has one event left in Nanning, the high bar final Sunday.

The World Gymnastics Championships continue with the women’s all-around final Friday (full schedule here). American Simone Biles is a heavy favorite to become the first woman to win back-to-back World titles since Svetlana Khorkina in 2001 and 2003.

Photos: Sochi Olympic Park ready for Formula One race

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

GREATEST OLYMPIANS: Germany | Liechtenstein | Japan

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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