Mai Murakami had a great first day at the All-Japan Championships in Tokyo today, earning a 57.2 to lead the field going into Sunday’s all-around final.
The 19-year-old Murakami was second alternate for the worlds team last year before replacing a teammate at the last minute and going on to have the best results for Japan in Glasgow. During today’s performance, she hit especially strong routines on vault and floor for scores of 15.1 and 14.8, and also hit a solid bars set for a 14.0. Since Japan uses a combination of scores from the qualification and final rounds to determine the champion, her finish today puts her in a very good spot as she fights for the title.
In second place was 16-year-old Aiko Sugihara, who hit all routines for a 56.5, defeating reigning All-Japan champion and 2012 Olympian Asuka Teramoto by half a point after showing especially lovely work on bars. Teramoto was third with a 56.05, also hitting all four but showing slight mistakes that held her back a bit.
Ayu Koike pulled out a surprise fourth place finish with a 54.6, pulling ahead of several former worlds team members and alternates with an especially good vault. Marina Kawasaki and new senior Koko Dobashi tied for fifth with scores of 54.25, Wakana Inoue was seventh with a 54.2, and Minami Honda was eighth with a 54.05.
Shockingly, two of last year’s worlds team members, Natsumi Sasada and Sae Miyakawa, were down in ninth and tenth, respectively, after bad days for both. Sasada, who also struggled a bit last year, had a fall on beam to finish with a 53.95, and while Miyakawa put up a huge 15.55 on vault, she struggled with her difficult floor routine for just a 13.9 there, and also brought in low scores on her weak events, bars and beam.
This finish isn’t such a big deal for Miyakawa, who didn’t compete as one of Japan’s top all-arounders last year but still earned a spot on the worlds team due to her strength on vault and floor. For Sasada, however, the result is troubling. Japan uses a points system throughout their domestic season to determine world and Olympic teams, with the top four all-arounders plus one specialist typically invited to compete in the Olympic year. She’s only less than a point behind the fourth place competitor, so she definitely has the potential to make up for her errors today, but with a lot more competition this year and one fewer spot on the team, Sasada will need to show extreme consistency from this point out; otherwise she will risk missing out on a second Olympic team.
The top 24 all-arounders were invited to compete in Sunday’s all-around final. In addition to the top ten listed above, Shiho Nakaji, Hitomi Hatakeda, Yuki Uchiyama, Yurika Yumoto, Kiko Kuwajima, Mai Okada, Akiho Sato, Sakura Yumoto, Yasuha Matsumura, Yui Terao, Yuka Natsume, Nagi Kajita, Mina Sugimara, and Mana Oguchi will also compete.
Yuna Hiraiwa, a member of the 2014 worlds team before she had to withdraw due to injury, was expected to be a finals contender today but was unable to compete, though the reason is unknown.
Article by Lauren Hopkins