most artistic gymnast?

Jim Holt argues the most “artistic” male gymnast was Valentin Mogilny.

Click PLAY or watch his Pommels on YouTube. (1989)

My favourite memories of Valentin are of him being coached by his ex-wife Olga Bicherova. :-)

I’d suggested Vladimir Artemov.

Click PLAY or watch his Floor on YouTube. (1989)

Leave a comment if you have anyone else to nominate.

How about Li Ning?

MOST in contention will be from the former Soviet Union.


#1 Phillip on 12.04.13 at 6:35 pm

Alexei Nemov always comes to mind when I think of the epitome of artistic (with his weakness being form on rings)

#2 Geoffrey Taucer on 12.04.13 at 6:46 pm

Lots of bent knees in Mogilny’s single-leg work…..

#3 Anthony on 12.04.13 at 7:09 pm

I’d say Uchimura and Nemov as well and you can compare his difficulty to todays gymnast. Lets keep in mind the more skills and difficulty you have to train day in and day out the harder it is to work on the fine details. Some of these routines of the past are what level 9s are doing. just imagine how showy uchimura could be if his hardest skill was a double layout!

#4 Gym Fan on 12.04.13 at 7:41 pm

Jason Furr should definitely be in the mix on this one

#5 Gymnastics Fan on 12.04.13 at 7:43 pm

Jason Furr all the way! Best style of all time! Incredible high bar worker, one of the best in the world to this day. His releases are sky high, and his pirouetting and inverted elements are absolutely perfect. He wins, no contest

#6 MNGYM@ on 12.04.13 at 8:19 pm

I’m going to say Grigory Misutin of the Ukraine, 1991 World AA champion. I think Vitaly Scherbo as well. Dmitry Bilozerchev, of course. Hiroyuki Tomita 2005 world AA champion.

#7 JimfromSeattle on 12.04.13 at 9:04 pm

unfortunately, the “best” of Mogilny is not on YouTube….his 86 goodwill games fx routine is representative, but NOT his best….there is one (watered) HB set …..I’m very happy that Bilozerchev is in the discussion….presumably most of your posters know that DB and VM are contemporaries and were trained as juniors by Alexandrov……the three greatest gymnasts in history are:
Sawao Kato…..

the most elegant……Mogilny by a kilometer/mile

#8 balabanov11 on 12.04.13 at 10:45 pm

there are SOOOO many former Soviets that could vie for this title, as well as Kato of Japan, several Chinese, Kroll, I could go on and on, but I’ll for his incredible originality, I’ll nominate my namesake, Yuri Balabanov – beautiful line, amazing smile, incredible flexibility, orginal elements everywhere.

#9 Andrea on 12.05.13 at 9:54 am

Agree with votes for Yuri Balabanov and Nemov. Also, some of the old Japanese. In modern times, Enrique Tomas Gonzalez Sepulveda always seemed to try to add a touch of artistic flair in the 3 extra seconds men’s floor routines have between the non-stop tumbling.

#10 JimfromSeattle on 12.05.13 at 10:43 am

balabanov is certainly worthy to be in the discussion…..that said, Rick, it exasperates me that in these discussions about “artistry”, no one has yet attempted to talk about or refute the specific points I’ve made…..the piece on ‘choreographers being able to
identify artistry’ reinforces my point, but no one who disagrees with me will provide an example of Who or (most importantly) WHY I’m mistaken.

1. artistry is quantifyable
2. Mogilny is the most elegant of all-time
3. our sport is the worse for the neglect of #1

#11 yourfacedude on 12.05.13 at 12:23 pm

Jim, Arbitrarily giving something a number does not make it quantifiable (I am 5 happy right now?). When something is quantifiable, it is quantifiable because it can be measured against a universally understood standard (i.e. 0-10degrees from handstand, shoulder-width steps). When you find this universally understood standard for artistry please let us know. As far as your ‘I’ll know it when I see it paradigm,” that’s just a specific persons opinion…it may be be more valid than other people’s opinions because they have more experience, but that doesn’t mean two experienced people will not have differing opinions. In our sport, there has always been problems with judges having pet gymnasts or favorite countries, etc….do you really want to give judges extra tenths to throw around based on an opinion that cannot be questioned? Your concept of effortless, fluidity, etc…those are your opinions on what artistry is. If the rules were structured to make everyone conform to this notion, it would make as much sense as going to a museum filled with hundreds of copies of the Mona Lisa. Artistry is also about creativity and innovation.

Further no one can refute your point #2 and 3 because they are your subjective opinions. I tend to agree with your second point, but for your third point, I think you misspelled “get off my lawn.”

#12 Gummi Brynjolfsson on 12.05.13 at 12:32 pm

Look how much better men’s floor looks with fewer lines and more time for detail and bigger multi flipping saltos. Today’s floor is to much running around the carpet packing in as many twisting elements as possible without any time for any artistic skills. The average or even knowledgable onlooker can not really see the difference between all these twisting skills and right after the routine nobody can remember which combinations of twisting was used. On the other hand the old timers can still remember every skill that the greats like moguilny, li Ning, tong fei and the rest did. So IMO fewer and bigger skills even bring acro skills down to 5 like the women have wisely done.

#13 Ono No Komachi on 12.05.13 at 1:18 pm

What the Dude said. X1000.

#14 yourfacedude on 12.05.13 at 2:27 pm

Another thought: I don’t think any rules that ever mentioned artistry have ever worked to improve artistry. Prior to the open-ended code, artistry was important because, under a code that arbitrarily caps difficulty, there needed to be another way to distinguish the gymnasts at the top. It creates incentive for gymnasts to set themselves apart from the pack. It became about form and aesthetics, or artistry.

Under the open-ended code, the cap, instead of being the arbitrary level of difficulty, becomes the limits of the human body. Right now, we have a large disparity between difficulty, resulting in the who ever has the most difficulty winning. But I think we are reaching the limits of the human body, and people will catch up. Form and aesthetics will be more important.

If you want speed up this process, rather than making an artistry category, focus on ways that cap difficulty like dropping from 10 skills to 7-8, or making a limit on the number of tumbling lines on floor (Gummi’s idea), or changing the categories of required elements or number of skills required under those elements, etc.

#15 JimfromSeattle on 12.05.13 at 6:58 pm

cripes, i’ll try one more time…….
yes, these are my personal opinions…..while there is “wiggle room”, #1 is not subjective…..#2 I’ll grant you is, but it would be great if somebody would actually attempt to refute me by giving another example and explaining WHY that person is more elegant than my candidate….it’s exasperating that the best people seem to be able to respond is “well, that’s your opinion.” It is. If you disagree, tell me who and WHY, then we can have a discussion.

I can expound at length on the details, but let me ask you (or Ono) a question:
do you think the difference in the movement qualities of Boginskaya compared to say, Jana Bieger are simply a matter of opinion?
if you do, then further discussion is pointless.

If you agree that there is a difference, what is it and WHY would one be preferable to the other? THAT’S now the basis for a discussion of artistry.

also, in other posts, I’ve repeatedly pointed out the fallacy of FIG using the word “difficulty” in numbering/evaluating elements…..the more appropriate word is “complexity”. A full-in is appropriately valued greater than a double salto because it’s more COMPLEX, not because it’s more difficult (although it is that too.)

Real difficult (as you suggest was recognized in the ‘capped’ code) is making any skill appear effortless…..I have no problem being characterized as a
“get off my lawn” guy….IF you recognize that the lawn/garden of the late 80s and early 90s was the zenith of the sport…..if you prefer the gymnastics of Legendre, Zhou Kai, and Bieger to Nemov,, then so be it……Nureyev and Barishnikov will be legends 50 years from now, and NOT because they could jump high (which they most certainly could).

#16 JimfromSeattle on 12.05.13 at 7:13 pm

one (actually two, but related) more question for the “artistry is simply a matter of opinion” crowd:

are straight legs preferable to bent legs (everything else being equal)?

should toes be pointed?

if you answer yes to either or both, the real question is:

WHY are these preferable?

#17 denn333 on 12.05.13 at 9:12 pm

I think that the men’s floor E-panel should be given 1 tenth to deduct for “lack of artistry between acro lines.” Just by being there, guys will do it. Some will do it better than others, but they will do it. I am completely comfortable letting a panel play with a tenth. They do it anyway.

#18 Gymplaza on 12.05.13 at 9:18 pm


My list:
Alexei Nemov, Alexander Dityatin, Dmitry Bilozerchev, Li Xiaoshuang, Vladimir Artemov & Valeri Liukin

I have to admit that missing in the list is K?hei Uchimura

#19 coach Rick on 12.05.13 at 9:47 pm

Kohei’s the BEST gymnast all time. But for some reason I’ve never considered him one of the most artistic gymnasts all time.

#20 yourfacedude on 12.05.13 at 9:48 pm

Jim, we’re not that far apart. I mainly take issues with two things and maybe it’s just petty semantics.

First, you ask people to refute your opinions. Refute implies that you can be proved wrong, but that’s not possible with personal opinions. Honestly, I don’t even really disagree with your opinions about Mogilny, so there is no reason to offer another.

Second, you argue that artistry is quantifiable. I said it’s not…I am not saying we couldn’t make a deduction or bonus or whatever it is that you would propose. I’m just saying it would arbitrary and the trend in the sport has been to try and take the power away from judges to make decisions based on factors that aren’t quantifiable. This is about the perception of fairness. If things aren’t judged by a measurable standard, there is a potential problem of judges having pre-formed opinions about a gymnast clouding their view of that particular routine performed, and gymnasts being unfairly disadvantaged/type-casted.

I agree that there are characteristics of artistic gymnasts that are basically universally agreed upon, like fluidity of movement, lines, effortlessness (i.e yes toes should be pointed, legs straight, Bogi over Bieger). I just don’t think it’s wise to put a number on something immeasurable. It is easy to tell the difference between an artistic gymnast and a non-artistic gymnast…but how do you compare and rank accordingly an artistic gymnast with another artistic gymnast? Isn’t that a decision fundamentally different than judging the angle of a handstand? How would you differentiate between Mogilny, and a hypothetical twin brother who is equally as talented, and artistic, competing a different but equally complex routine? This is the inherent problem with attempting to quantify artistry, because even trained eyes will have differing opinions, even if we all agree on what constitutes artistry.

#21 Ono No Komachi on 12.06.13 at 4:59 am

Whatever system is use to judge, it has to be fair.

The nature of the human brain renders this very difficult even when sticking to “objective” aspects.

With artistry, it is impossible. Nobody can even agree on what it is. It’s all about people coming up with their own definitions and the expecting everyone else to agree with them.

I don’t define artistry as quality of movement or pointed toes. That is what the E panel is for. It’s execution. Just leave the word art out of it. It just confuses the issue.

I can see Steven Legendre doesn’t move like Soviet gymnasts from the 1980s. The crux of the matter is I just don’t care.

The explosive power required to perform many of today’s skills may have rendered the type of movement seen in the 80s a thing of the past.

#22 JimfromSeattle on 12.06.13 at 9:17 am

tell Luikin and Gogoladze that “the explosive power required to today’s skills may have rendered the type of movement seen in the 80s a thing of the past”

Serious question: WHY do you prefer SL’s routine to say, ANY of the 88 Soviet team? I get it’s your preference…..why? not an attack, I just wish somebody would/could explain WHY they prefer what they prefer?

#23 Ono No Komachi on 12.06.13 at 9:31 pm

I like SL better than ANY of the Soviet 88 team because I do. There is no reason. It just is.

#24 balabanov11 on 12.06.13 at 11:27 pm

no there is a reason Ono – it’s because to you gymnastics is just chucking skills, as many as possible, and landing mostly on your feet. Which is the textbook definition of Steven Legendre. But that’s not artistic gymnastics. And btw, if Legendre had to perform his gymnastics with the line, rhythm, power from technique, form, body shape etc. of the former Soviets, he couldn’t do half the crap he chucks.

#25 JimfromSeattle on 12.07.13 at 12:27 pm



#26 Ono No Komachi on 12.08.13 at 3:55 pm

What’s it to you, anyway? People root for crap sports teams all the time. Yankees fans probably don’t waste time fretting over people rooting for the cubs.

Anyone who wastes time explaining to me why Legendre sucks has just wasted minutes of his or her life that could have been spent doing something productive.

On the other hand, if you enjoy doing it, I say go for it.

I actually find it quite entertaining.

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