The Japanese team at the 2014 World Championships is a great one, and most importantly, a consistent one.
2012 Olympian Asuka Teramoto headlines the team alongside two-time Olympian Yu Minobe and standout performer Natsumi Sasada; charmingly talented Mai Murakami, Wakana Inoue, and Azumi Ishikura round out the group named early this July after strong performances at Japanese nationals.
Their difficulty is a bit low to make them top contenders, so while I think they’ll make the team final without much of a struggle, they’ll have to be at their absolute best and hope for mistakes from others to get close to the top half of the pack.
What you can expect are GORGEOUS beam routines. I’m not kidding – Sasada and Minobe should be huge crowd-pleasers here, and they’re equally lovely to watch on bars, where they’ll fight for the anchor spot if they’re both on top of things in training.
Sasada is also a strong all-arounder; if I had to guess, it’ll be her and Teramoto in finals there. Sasada has a lovely FTY, and probably the top-scoring floor routine for the Japanese team at the moment. She’ll likely be used on all four events in the team final, as in addition to her technical prowess and fantastic presentation, she’s also easily one of the most consistent gymnasts competing.
At 24, Minobe is the veteran of the team. She still competes in the all-around, though compared to her incredible bars and beam, her vault and floor are super weak. She’ll definitely be used in a bars/beam specialist role, though we’ll possibly see her on floor in qualifications as well.
Teramoto doesn’t have the flashiest routines, but she can be counted on to put up four clean routines with the expertise that comes with having competed at the Olympic level. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on all four events in team finals, if only because she’s so trustworthy and her scores aren’t THAT far behind those of her teammates with more difficult sets.
On the power side, Murakami should vault a pretty impressive DTY, and though she’s looked a bit off on floor this year, she has potential to hit a strong routine though I don’t see finals happening unless she’s made some huge improvements.
Then there are the wee ones of the team. Inoue has a pretty reliable floor routine, but she’ll have to fight Murakami for a spot. If she doesn’t get it, she will be good backup on all events, even those that aren’t necessarily strong for her. Finally, first-year senior Ishikura, added to the team just days ago after Hiraiwa had to return home due to injury, has decent scores on beam and floor typically, with beam her standout event…but on a team like this where beam is already super impressive, I’m not sure she’ll be considered for a finals spot.
The Gymternet’s Team Final Predictions
On vault, Murakami and Teramoto will be the ones to drive the team home, and then Sasada has a clean FTY to fit in nicely in the third spot. Inoue, Yu, and Ishikura are all about on the same page, though I’d probably go with Ishikura, who has a decent FTY.
Sasada and Minobe will without a doubt be in the bars lineup, and I think Teramoto is an easy choice for the third slot. Inoue is still iffy there, but shows promise so she’d be my alternate. Sasada and Minobe are also tops on beam, and then I’d again use Teramoto for the third, as she can hit decent numbers and is also very level-headed on the competition floor. The alternate spot would go to Ishikura, who typically hits in the high 13s and could fill in nicely. Hiraiwa would have been perfect for that spot, so it’s unfortunate she’s injured. She would have been a great help in qualifications.
On floor, Sasada again is my top pick, and I think Teramoto again makes sense. I think Inoue has had a better season than Murakami on floor, but Murakami is something of a star for her country on this event so I’d probably take her and hope for the best. That leaves Inoue without any spots in the team final, though she’d be my second choice for the third spot on both bars and floor; I just think she needs a bit more experience before she’s my number one.
The High Scores
We took our potential team finals lineups and plugged in each athlete’s high score this year to see what their maximum earning potential looks like. You know, just for fun.
|VT||Murakami 14.650||Teramoto 14.366||Sasada 14.150||ALT Ishikura 13.750|
|UB||Minobe 13.950||Sasada 13.900||Teramoto 13.650||ALT Inoue 13.250|
|BB||Minobe 14.800||Sasada 14.700||Teramoto 14.366||ALT Ishikura 14.000|
|FX||Sasada 13.900||Teramoto 13.666||Murakami 13.650||ALT Inoue 13.600|
Top Pick– 169.748
Alternate – 168.532
The Low Scores
Same as above, but using each athlete’s lowest score this season.
|VT||Murakami 14.000||Teramoto 14.100||Sasada 13.800||ALT Ishikura 13.200|
|UB||Minobe 13.800||Sasada 13.450||Teramoto 13.333||ALT Inoue 13.100|
|BB||Minobe 14.166||Sasada 13.800||Teramoto 13.900||ALT Ishikura 13.500|
|FX||Sasada 13.450||Teramoto 13.250||Murakami 12.900||ALT Inoue 12.667|
Top Pick– 163.949
Alternate – 162.483
Unlike Great Britain, who had nearly a 20 point jump between their best and worst scores, Japan is actually pretty close, giving them an edge because even if there are mistakes, you know there won’t be a total meltdown.
Let’s Be Real
We know not everyone is going to have their best or worst day during team finals, so here, we averaged each athlete’s scores on each event to get a more realistic idea of what will probably happen.
|VT||Murakami 14.367||Teramoto 14.222||Sasada 13.950||ALT Ishikura 13.531|
|UB||Minobe 13.861||Sasada 13.684||Teramoto 13.478||ALT Inoue 13.150|
|BB||Minobe 14.422||Sasada 14.275||Teramoto 14.189||ALT Ishikura 13.797|
|FX||Sasada 13.617||Teramoto 13.472||Murakami 13.294||ALT Inoue 13.242|
Top Pick– 166.831
Alternate – 165.64
This score seems a bit low, but it’s less than a point less than what the 2011 World Championships team earned in the final, so it’s about on par. Because they’re a consistent team overall, they definitely have potential to hit at least a point higher than what this suggests, but at the same time, they’re competing against super strong European teams, so there’s definitely going to be a bit more competition than there was in previous team final years at this level.
So far, Great Britain is coming in with a 170.094, which could be a bit inflated due to Gabby Jupp‘s scores coming from 2013, and Japan follows with 165.909. Stay tuned for the next in a series of team previews to see how other top nations will fare!
Article by Lauren Hopkins