Vitaly Scherbo

Vitaly Scherbo weighs in on Kohei Uchimura

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Kohei Uchimura, the five-time reigning World all-around champion, has been asked who is the greatest gymnast in history.

In 2011 and 2013 at least, he answered with Vitaly Scherbo. The Belarusian Scherbo is the only gymnast to win six gold medals at a single Olympics, doing so with the Unified Team at Barcelona 1992.

Scherbo owns 10 career Olympic medals and 23 World Championships medals. Uchimura is well behind with five Olympic medals and 16 Worlds medals.

Scherbo, who moved to Las Vegas in 1997 and opened a gym there in 1998, said in a phone interview Monday that he’s never met Uchimura. But he has watched the growing Japanese legend on TV.

“What I’ve seen on videos for him, first of all with the difficulty of gymnastics right now, and the difficult skills and being a specialist on one or two events a normal practice in the world, but to be the all-around leader for the past three, four years, winning all the competitions, especially the big ones, and winning by the large number, it already shows and says enough,” said Scherbo, who is now 43 years old with two daughters (Kristina, 22, and Victoria, 5). “So there is not only my opinion, I would say the opinion of the whole world that the all-arounder who wins everything the last four years, including World Championships and Olympics, you have to be considered one of the greatest gymnasts.

“To become one of greatest gymnasts of all time, you have to have a little bit more achievements and medals. As of right now, I don’t see anybody close to him, especially with the large margin of victory in competition (more detail on that here), and how flawlessly he’s doing them. With his difficulty right now, his all-around goes so flawless and without faults. It is very, very hard to do. That’s already very impressive. The difficulty of his routines is top-notch. I would tell you that, yes, he is one of the best for sure. I don’t think it will be anyone who’s going to become closer to him.”

Uchimura, 26, could very well catch Scherbo in medal totals. He has said he plans to compete through the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. At Rio 2016, Uchimura will likely try to become the first man to repeat as Olympic all-around champion since 1972. Scherbo failed in his bid in 1996, taking bronze.

Scherbo said Uchimura is competing in a tougher era now than in 1992 to scoop a handful of medals at one global meet.

There are now more elite gymnasts who specialize in one or two events from more nations than Scherbo had to deal with in his prime.

“It’s almost impossible,” to win six gold medals at an Olympics now, Scherbo said. “For [Uchimura], winning the all-around and probably get some medal with the team competition and placing in a couple events silver or bronze, maybe one gold, that’s maximum you can get.”

In 2011, Uchimura said, “My goal, indeed, is to perform in a way more beautiful than Scherbo’s routines,” according to Agence France-Presse.

In 2013, Uchimura said of Scherbo to the BBC, “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. To complete each individual event so perfectly could not have been possible without a huge amount of training and really strong mental, psychological control.”

Scherbo said Monday that he’s read Uchimura’s comments.

“Thank you very much, what else I can say?” Scherbo said. “It’s really nice of him not to show the cockiness like usual stars are doing. That was pretty nice of him. I appreciate his thought. Of course, every time they have their own heroes. Gymnasts have their own heroes. This last decade, that’s him.”

Scherbo said he has not been to an Olympics since he last competed at Atlanta 1996. He said he didn’t have the time to leave his gym, the young athletes he coached and his family in Las Vegas for two or three weeks in the summer.

But Scherbo hopes to return to the Olympics for the first time in 20 years in 2016, as a coach. One of his pupils is former U.S. gymnast Fabian DeLuna, who placed second at the Mexican National Championships earlier this month. Scherbo said DeLuna is to compete at the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, in October for Mexico.

Scherbo misses the atmosphere of big-time gymnastics.

“My old friends,” Scherbo said. “The air inside the arena and the fights, in a good way, between the competitors up there. The scoring and sweating and shaking up. Of course, I miss that. I haven’t been there for a long, long time.”

A recent history of U.S. Olympic gymnastics comebacks

Maya Moore withdraws from Olympic consideration

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Maya Moore, the U.S. second-leading scorer at the Rio Olympics, withdrew her name from Tokyo Olympic consideration and will skip a second straight WNBA season.

Moore is on hiatus from competitive basketball to focus on criminal justice reform. Specifically, the case of a man who was sentenced to 50 years in prison but Moore believes is innocent, according to The New York Times.

USA Basketball confirmed Wednesday’s Times report that Moore took her name out of consideration for the 12-player Tokyo Olympic team, which is expected to be named in late spring or early summer.

“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan said, according to the report. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team.”

Moore last played for the U.S. in major competition at the Rio Olympics. She was one of the leaders on a team that earned a sixth straight gold medal. Moore started all eight games and averaged 12 points per game, second on the team behind fellow former University of Connecticut star Diana Taurasi.

Breanna Stewart, another former UConn standout, entered the starting lineup at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Moore’s absence and earned tournament MVP. Stewart is returning after missing the entire 2019 WNBA season with an Achilles tear.

Moore also started five games at the 2012 London Olympics as the team’s youngest player.

Moore, 30, said “this is not the time” to retire, according to the Times, but it’s unknown when she might return to the national team or to the WNBA, where she won four titles and an MVP with the Minnesota Lynx from 2011-18.

“I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times,” Moore said, according to the report. “There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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