Gymnast Uchimura targets Scherbo’s artistry after worlds glory

By Shigemi Sato ,AFP

TOKYO — Japan’s gymnastics superstar Kohei Uchimura says his new goal is to outshine the legendary Vitaly Scherbo, and refuses to rest on his laurels after his unprecedented third straight world all-round triumph. When he wrapped up his world championship challenge in Tokyo on Sunday with two gold medals, one silver and one bronze, the 22-year-old was asked who the greatest gymnast in history is. “Scherbo,” Uchimura readily replied. Belarussian Scherbo won six of eight men’s events for the commonwealth of former Soviet republics at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the greatest haul of gold medals won by any gymnast at a single Games. He has also 12 world titles to his name. “It is not the results that matter,” said Uchimura, who has been an unbeatable all-rounder since 2008 when he finished second to China’s Yang Wei in his Olympic debut in Beijing. “My goal, indeed, is to perform in a way more beautiful than Scherbo’s routines,” said Uchuimura, who started gymnastics at a gym run by his parents near Nagasaki. Artistry was what Uchimura displayed in finishing third on the horizontal bar on Sunday as the last man to compete in the final event of the 10-day championships. He “stuck,” or did not move, when he landed after a stretched double salto backwards with a double twist. He threw up clenched fists before roaring home fans at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. “As soon as I dismounted, I knew I would stick,” he said. His D-score, which evaluates the difficulty value of the performance, was 7.300 points and fifth among the high-bar finalists, compared with 7.700 for the winner, Olympic champion Zou Kai of China. But Uchimura was the only one to top 9.0 points in the E-score, which evaluates the execution and artistry of the routine. In total, Zou beat defending champion and teammate Zhang Chenglong by 16.441 to 16.366. Uchimura collected 16.333. “Kohei does not show any fear. He’s untouchable,” said German Fabian Hambuechen, the 2007 world horizontal bar champion, who finished fourth. “If Yang Wei would still compete, he has no chance against Kohei.” Japan’s delegation chief Mitsuo Tsukahara, a multiple Olympic and world champion, said: “I’ve sensed unfathomable potential in Uchimura.” Uchimura’s buildup to his title defense had been hampered by recurring leg cramps.

In the men’s team final, he fell from the high bar as Olympic champions China won the fifth straight title and left Japan in second spot for the third straight time. But Uchimura became the first man to win three all-around titles on Friday. Russian Svetlana Khorkina won the women’s title three times, but not in a row. Uchimura beat German Philipp Boy into second spot by topping the field in four of the six events. He was 3.101 points clear. Uchimura said he might not need to upgrade his D-score for next year’s London Olympics. “Boy and others may upgrade their routines but I will then take them on in the E-score,” he said. “If I can perform as I did in the all-around this time, I believe the result will be there.” He also won the floor exercise title on Saturday for his first ever world or Olympic event-by-event title. His tucked double salto backwards with a triple twist in his opening tumble was so fast that the judges initially counted it as a double twist but corrected the score after seeing a video replay. Fears of leg pain and the team-final defeat have haunted him, Uchimura said, adding that he always cheers himself up by listening to Jennifer Lopez’ hits in competitions, especially “On the Floor.” “No pun intended,” he laughed. “I pump myself up that way.”