Nikita Nagornyy is a man on a mission.
The Russian gymnastics star hasn't lost a major international competition since finishing third in the all-around at the 2018 World Championships. Since then, he's won the 2019 World and European titles and Friday (23 April) added the 2021 European Artistic Gymnastics Championships all-around title to that growing list of reasons why he'll be the one to beat come the Tokyo Olympic Games later in 2021.
To take that title, he posted a 88.032 total in the all-around at the event, held in Basel, Switzerland. Teammate David Belyavskiy took the silver (85.864) and Ukraine's Illia Kovtun (84.864) was the bronze medallist.
Though he trailed Belyavskiy after two events, his win was never in doubt. That's because Nagornyy truly has no weakness, and he continues to push the envelope on his best events. In Thursday's qualifying round, he became the first gymnast to ever compete a triple back salto in the piked position on the floor exercise. That skill will now be called 'the Nagornyy.'
It's all part of his plan in the build up to the Tokyo Games where he hopes, in addition to individual success, he'll help the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) win its first men's Olympic team title since 1996.
"I needed to try out my routines because I have a new routine on floor and I’ll try to have an even stronger one in the final," Nagornyy said in an interview with MatchTV, translated by Gymnovosti. "For me, these championships is sort of a test, mental, psychological, to show that I finally can get into the competition mode. God willing, I’ll be able to compete more before the Olympics and my health will be fine."
In Tokyo, his toughest competition will likely come from China's Xiao Ruoteng, the 2017 World Champion. Xiao also finished second at the 2018 Worlds and fourth in 2019. Nagornyy's other main rival, teammate Artur Dalaloyan, became a question mark just before leaving for Basel when he suffered a partially torn Achilles tendon that required surgery to repair.
Dalaloyan's injury has shaken Nagornyy - and all of Team Russia, he says.
"We understand that Artur has a chance to come back, and we’re left to wait and hope that all the pieces of this puzzle will fit together and the team will be complete again," said Nagornyy. "It’s very important for us because we’ve been through such things together that, I’m sure, most teams haven’t been through. Most probably, no other team has been through such things. We’ve become a family and it’s a blow to the whole Russian team."