With 15 podium finishes at three Olympic Games, seven of them as champion, Nikolai Andrianov has won more Olympic medals than any other male gymnast in history.
At Barcelona 1992, Vitaly Scherbo won six gold medals, setting a new artistic gymnastics record for a single edition of the Games. He revealed that he owed his success to the man who had coached him as a junior, Nikolai Andrianov. Andrianov had protected and encouraged the talented by tempestuous youngster when he was excluded from the USSR team. “He was my mentor. He taught me how to concentrate, to keep myself inside myself”, revealed Scherbo. Andrianov’s faith in his charge paid off. In Barcelona, Scherbo beat the record of four gold medals that he himself had set at Montreal 1976. However, the young pretender remained some way off his mentor’s cumulative tally of 15 Olympic medals, a haul that has only been bettered by one other male athlete, American swimmer Michael Phelps, who took his overall tally to 22 at London 2012.
Raised by his mother in Vladimir, 190km to the east of Moscow, Nikolai Yefimovich Andrianov first tried his hand at gymnastics when he was 12, and was fortunate enough to be spotted by a renowned coach from the Soviet school, Nikolai Tolkachev. Under Tolkachev’s tutelage, Andrianov built on his exceptional physical qualities (he boasted incredible upper body strength combined with phenomenal suppleness) and his progress was rapid. At the age of 18, he was selected for the USSR national team, and at the 1971 European Championships he won six medals, including golds in the pommel horse and vault.
Andrianov’s seven Olympic gold medals included two on floor (1972 and 1976), two on vault (1976 and 1980), one individual all-around (1976), one on still rings (1976) and one in the team all-around (1980). He also won five silvers and three bronze medals. It was at his second Games, in Montreal, that Andrianov was at the height of his powers, and was near ever-present on the podium, with seven medal finishes out of a possible eight. His finest moment came in the rings, where he was the only competitor to complete a triple reverse salto in the dismount. At Moscow 1980, where he took his overall tally to 15 Olympic medals, setting a record that would stand until Michael Phelps first took the Olympic oath in 2008, Andrianov was chosen to read the Olympic oath during the Opening Ceremony. In addition his Olympic haul, he also won 12 medals in the World Championships (four of them gold), and claimed the European title no less than 10 times.
After he stopped competing in 1980, Andrianov spent the following 12 years coaching the USSR national junior team, where he guided Scherbo to the summit. He then served for a period as an international judge, before accepting an invitation from his old rival and friend Mitsuo Tsukahara to coach the Japanese men’s team in 1994. After guiding Japan to the all-around team gold at Athens 2004, he returned to his hometown of Vladimir, taking the reigns as head of the gymnastics school where he had started out as a youngster. It was there, on 21 March 2011, following a long battle with illness, Nikolai Andrianov died at the age of just 58.
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