Yordan Yovchev Yovchev (BG: Йордан Йовчев Йовчев) is a Bulgarian gymnast, former World Champion, and six time Olympian holding the all-time gymnastics record for Olympic appearances. He is widely admired for his artistry, discipline, and longevity especially in the rings, his signature event.
His story is one of hard work and determination yielding a long and successful career. He has been called a Bulgarian hero, a national treasure, and an inspirational role model for Bulgarian children.
Early Life and Training
Yovchev was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria on 24 February 1973. He started training in 1979. As a boy he was inspired by his hero, the great Bulgarian gymnast Stoyan Deltchev, 1979 European All-around champion and two time medalist at the 1980 Olympic Games.
Yovchev made his first Olympic team in 1992 at the age of 19, making him one of the youngest competitors in men’s gymnastics. He failed to qualify for the finals, finishing an undistinguished 55th in the all-around competition. His best event was in the rings, where he placed 34th. He represented Bulgaria again in the 1996 games in Atlanta, where he barely fell short of a medal performance in the rings, finishing just .012 points out of the money.
Following the Atlanta Olympics, Yovchev moved to America with teammates Krasimir Dunev and Ivan Ivanov to train and compete in the United States.
Yovchev won two bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, in the floor exercise and the rings. He reached the pinnacle of his Olympic career with a silver medal in the rings at the 2004 Athens Olympics and a second bronze medal in the floor exercise.
Controversy sprang up around the 2004 rings competition, in which Dimosthenis Tampakos of Greece defeated Yovchev by a mere .012 points to take the gold medal, leaving Yovchev with silver despite a “flawless” performance by the Bulgarian star. The judges were accused of giving the host county favorite a helping hand. When the results were displayed, even the hometown crowd showed disapproval of the result. In a theatrical protest, legendary Italian gymnast Jury Chechi, who took bronze, walked over to Yovchev, lifted his arm in the air, and pointed to him as if to say, “Here is the real champion!”
Yovchev claimed he was robbed, and Bulgarian media slammed the judges’ decision. Engaging in a bit of hyperbole, they went so far as the call it “the theft of the century.”
In 2008, Yovchev participated in his fifth Olympics at the Beijing Olympic Games, qualifying second in the rings competition. He came into the event with high hopes to take a medal, but unfortunate errors in the finals doomed his performance, and he finished in a disappointing last (8th) place. At 35 years of age, Yovchev was the oldest gymnastics competitor since 1964.
He qualified for his record sixth Olympic team to represent Bulgaria at the 2012 London Olympic Games, where he was chosen flag bearer for his country during the opening ceremonies. Competing only in the rings, he again qualified for the finals. His 7th place finish earned a standing ovation from the crowd. At age 39, he was the oldest gymnastics competitor in over 50 years.
Yovchev earned a spot among the world’s great gymnasts by grabbing his first bronze medal in the all-around competition of the 1999 World Championships.
At the 2001 World Championships he won gold medals in the floor exercise and the rings, as well as adding a second bronze medal in the all-around competition to his haul.
In 2002 he took home silver medals in the floor exercise and the rings.
In 2003 he recovered glory in his best events, taking gold once again in both the floor exercise and the rings.
Medal Performances at Major International Competitions
World Championships (Sabae) Bronze medal – rings
World Championships (San Juan) silver medal – rings
World Championships (Tianjin) bronze medal – all-around
Olympic Games (Sydney) bronze medal – rings
Olympic Games (Sydney) bronze medal – floor exercise
World Championships (Ghent) gold medal – rings
World Championships (Ghent) gold medal – floor exercise
World Championships (Ghent) bronze medal – all-around
World Championships (Debrecen) silver medal – rings
World Championships (Debrecen) silver medal – floor exercise
European Championships (Patras) gold medal – rings
European Championships (Patras) silver medal – floor exercise
European Championships (Patras) silver medal – all-around
World Championships (Anaheim) gold medal – rings
World Championships (Anaheim) gold medal – floor exercise
Olympic Games (Athens) silver medal – rings
Olympic Games (Athens) bronze medal – floor exercise
European Championships (Ljubljana) silver medal – floor exercise
World Championships (Aarus) silver medal – rings
European Championships (Volos) silver medal – rings
World Championships (Stuttgart) bronze medal – rings
European Championships (Amsterdam) silver medal – rings
European Championships (Lausanne) silver medal – rings
World Championships (London) silver medal – rings
European Championships (Milan) bronze medal – rings
European Championships (Birmingham) bronze medal – rings
Yovchev is married with one child, Yordan junior, born in 2001. He trained and coached in Norman, Oklahoma, until 2007, then returned with his family to Bulgaria.
In 2009 he was elected President of the Bulgarian Gymnastics Federation.