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

At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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