2012 Olympian Asuka Teramoto continued to prove herself as a lock to make her second Olympic team this summer with her stellar performance at this year’s NHK Trophy in Tokyo. With excellent work on all four events, Teramoto, age 20, reached a 57.75 to add on to her 57.3 from All-Japan Championships, resulting in a combined total of 115.05 to take the title.
Teramoto successfully competed her Rudi on vault, showing a couple of small form errors in the air, but landing very well to score a 15.3. On bars, she had no major errors, hitting especially nice stalder work and showing only a small hop on her dismount for a 14.05 total. Her work on beam was careful and tidy, again with a hop on the dismount but still earning a 14.35 for the top score of the day there, and then finished strongly with a 14.05 on floor, looking a teeny bit short on some tumbling elements, but overall looking great.
Her biggest competition here was Mai Murakami, the 19-year-old who missed out on the Olympic Games four years ago but is now shaping up to be someone that can’t be ignored. Murakami defeated Teramoto at All-Japan last month, but came up short on bars and beam here at the NHK Trophy with a fall on her flight series on the latter, limiting her all-around finish to a 55.9 for a combined total of 113.3 for silver.
She killed it on vault and floor, though. She brought in a 15.05 for her huge DTY, showing a big hop on the landing but otherwise looking clean, and then nailed her big tumbling on floor for a 14.8 there. This is where she showed the team can’t leave her behind, as she nailed her double double, hit the double layout with a hop, stuck her 2.5 to front layout full cold, and hopped back on her double pike to finish.
Last year’s NHK Trophy champion Aiko Sugihara won the bronze this year, reaching a 112.35 combined total with scores of 56.0 at All-Japan and 56.35 at yesterday’s meet. Sugihara now has a very nice Yurchenko 1.5, which looks beautiful in the air and gets some great height, though she had a step on the landing yesterday, earning a 14.4.
On bars, she showed clean work and a lovely stalder half to Jaeger for a 14.15, though she had little mistakes throughout that limited her overall. She came back with a 13.75 on beam, where she looked a bit nervous, but ended up hitting well and playing it safe by downgrading a few series to look solid, though she had a big hop on her 2.5 dismount. Finishing on floor, Sugihara tied Teramoto with a 14.05 for a routine the crowd loved. She hit an opening triple full and a 2.5 to punch front very well, and looked especially great on her difficult dance elements.
These three are now locks for the 2016 Olympic Games, having secured berths onto the team based on Japan’s qualification formula, which factors in both all-around and event rankings. They have consistently been in the top three all season and are a step ahead of the rest of their teammates. In fact, in a team finals situation, you could put this group up everywhere and only really need to replace Murakami’s bars and beam, which is where the fourth-place NHK Trophy competitor comes in.
Yuki Uchiyama, who was replaced by Murakami on last year’s worlds team, could be the one who fits nicely on bars, where she boasts a 6.2 d-score for her lovely set that includes an opening stalder full to Komova to pak as well as a stalder half to Jaeger. She hit nicely yesterday for a 14.35 and still has room to improve, and she also finished in the top three on both bars and beam at All-Japan.
Her all-around combined score here was a 110.05, including her 55.15 from yesterday and a 54.9 last month. Uchiyama, who turned 18 earlier this year, also has a very clean Yurchenko 1.5 which earned a 14.3, and her beam is good when hit, though not a standout event really and she has a history of being a bit inconsistent. She fell yesterday for a 12.8, but finished up with a lovely performance on floor for a 13.7.
2012 Olympian and 2014 NHK champion Sasada has really struggled with consistency over the past year, and she placed just ninth at last month’s All-Japan with a score of 53.8 after a fall on bars. But she looked solid yesterday, earning a 54.6 for a 108.4 total, and more importantly, she is consistently in the top two on beam, which considerably helps her case.
Her routine isn’t anything incredibly special, but it’s a weak event for Japan and thus stands out above everyone but Teramoto. With a 13.95 at NHK, Sasada had a mostly strong set aside from a wobble on a full turn, the second-best set of the day. Otherwise, she hit her FTY with a couple of steps for a 14.0, made some mistakes on bars that she was able to recover from without a fall though her score of 13.1 was still quite low, and hit a mostly clean floor exercise for a 13.55.
Given her issues over the past year, including low-scoring routines at worlds, I’m not sure if she’s someone I’d want in Rio, though she might just be worth it for beam alone.
If they don’t take her, their other option is to hope for the best with Uchiyama on beam while taking 16-year-old Miyakawa to bolster the team on vault and floor. But Miyakawa might be an even greater risk, as she’s really gone downhill quite a bit since worlds, where her hugely difficult floor routine nearly earned a medal.
Miyakawa was 11th at NHK after mistakes nearly everywhere, finishing her day with a 106.0 total including a 52.05 yesterday and a 53.95 at All-Japan. She reportedly injured her ankle just before the competition, which seemed to really affect her, as she crashed her Rudi for just a 14.1 there and only received a 13.4 on floor, taking out some of her more difficult elements and stepping out-of-bounds several times. Miyakawa also had falls on bars (12.8) and beam (11.75), though wouldn’t ever be used there in international competition so they’re not as detrimental as her mistakes on her top events.
I do think if she is healthy and hitting at the best of her ability, Miyakawa makes more sense than Sasada. If the main four on the team include Teramoto, Murakami, Sugihara, and Uchiyama, the team final with Sasada means they’re counting Sugihara’s vault alongside Teramoto and Murakami’s more difficult sets, and then these three would also go up on floor. Beam would likely feature Teramoto and Sugihara along with Sasada, though Sasada would only add a couple of tenths more than either Murakami or Uchiyama could put up with hit routines, making Sasada’s value not that strong.
Miyakawa, however, means replacing Sugihara on vault with a Rudi that, when hit, can add nearly a point and then replacing either Sugihara or Teramoto on floor, again adding nearly a point there, again assuming she hits. Miyakawa could realistically add about 1.5 points to the team, whereas Sasada would only bring in a few tenths more than other beam options, so to me, Miyakawa makes the most sense.
However, given her issues on floor thus far in 2016, she really needs to be healthy and hitting for this scenario to actually work out. Vault has been okay, with strong scores at Gymnix and All-Japan, so I’m chalking this week’s fallen Rudi up to a fluke, but of her four floor routines so far, she’s only hit one.
It’s great that the team has depth, however. While there’s no one really in the running outside of the above six, first-year senior Nagi Kajita has been doing some great work, Marina Kawasaki has a superb bar routine when she hits, and they have quite a few gymnasts with big vaults, including Ayu Koike.
Sakura Yumoto, a member of last year’s worlds team with a notably strong beam, has been under-performing thus far in 2016, placing 17th at All-Japan and 21st at the NHK Trophy, meaning she will likely not be in the running for Rio.
Full results from the NHK Trophy are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins