While the All-Japan and NHK Trophy meets determined Japan’s top three all-arounders, confirming Asuka Teramoto, Mai Murakami, and Aiko Sugihara to this year’s Olympic team, the remainder of the team puzzle was solved by the All-Japan Event Championships held in Tokyo earlier this month.
Thanks to their strong performances here, Yuki Uchiyama and Sae Miyakawa will likely take the final two spots with Natsumi Sasada and Marina Kawasaki the other two on the Olympic training squad, technically as alternates, though as the next month or so goes on, they could replace someone not performing up to standard.
In Tokyo, Miyakawa won the gold medal on vault with a 14.7 average after qualifying with a 14.975, easily making her the best vaulter in the country and almost impossible to leave behind. In finals, she had a big Rudi with her chest down and a step over to the side, earning a 15.1 for that first vault, and then she downgraded her second vault to a big and clean Yurchenko full with a step back, earning a 14.3.
Though she qualified second on floor with a 14.75, her routine in finals included a fall, sitting her double front out of a front full, a super difficult pass but she just doesn’t get enough height out of the full to rotate the double tucks. Her opening full-twisting double layout was a tiny bit short as well, though she had a great landing on her double double in her third pass, and she took a slight step on her double tuck to finish, earning a 13.05.
Teramoto won the bars and beam titles with scores of 14.05 and 14.25, respectively. Despite having nothing to prove, she gave it her all here, showing great inbar and stalder work on bars aside from a little adjustment on her stalder full, and hitting a mostly great beam set, including an almost-connected Onodi to side aerial, a check after her bhs-bhs-loso series, and great rotation on her triple full.
The floor title went to Murakami with a huge 15.1, a great comeback from her fall in the bars final earlier in the meet. With a great double double to start, Murakami went on to hit her full-twisting double layout, a stuck 2.5 to front full, and a nearly stuck double pike. The crowd really went wild for this one, and Murakami looked thrilled after what was truly the performance of a lifetime for her.
Sugihara had a mostly good meet in Tokyo, winning the bars silver with a 14.0 and floor silver with a 14.3. She also qualified into the beam final with a 13.4, just managing to sneak in despite a pretty weak routine, but then she had a disastrous routine in finals, falling multiple times to receive a 10.65. I was impressed with her strong comeback on floor, though. We missed out on this sassy little routine at worlds because she was struggling from injuries, but she’s a great performer and had beautiful tumbling at this meet, including on her 1.5 to triple full (which she makes look so easy, I at first thought it was only a double!), stuck 2.5 to front full, stuck front double full, and double tuck with a tiny hop, finishing with the biggest smile on her face.
Despite being named to the team, Uchiyama didn’t actually have the best meet here, failing to qualify into the beam and floor finals with falls on both, and then falling in the bars final for only a 12.25 there after qualifying in first place. In the bars final, she over-arched her inbar full, trying like hell to save it (including going into an epic stag handstand as she fought to get back upright!) but ultimately had to drop off and start over again, finishing well but getting only a 12.25 for her rushed and nervous finish. But this meet was possibly a fluke, as Uchiyama is usually very strong on bars and finished fourth all-around both at All-Japan and at NHK, so this one rough weekend didn’t take away her Olympic chances.
Using this meet in an attempt to make up for some rough competitions earlier in the year, Natsumi Sasada made it into the bars and floor finals with good (but not great) routines, and missed out on the beam final after a fall in qualifications there. In the bars final, however, she couldn’t muscle a handstand out of her jam to handstand, causing her to lose her swing and hop off. She hit it with a late handstand the second time she tried, catching a Jaeger out of it a bit close, but then going on to miss her Tkachev for a second fall. She finished well, including with a stuck full-out dismount, but the damage had been done and she brought in just an 11.1 for the routine.
While floor isn’t a top event for Sasada, she made up for her bars falls there, coming back with a tucked full-in, double tuck, and double pike, all with some minor adjustments on landings, though overall she looked relieved to have hit. It’s a shame she’s been unable to keep up her high performance level that she started out with this quad after missing out on the Games four years ago, but you never know what could happen between now and then, and hopefully she shows in training that she could be a reliable stand-in if needed.
Kawasaki missed qualifying into the beam final, but finished well on bars both days, getting the bronze medal with a 13.9. She was a bit of a surprise for the Olympic training squad, but as bars is the team’s biggest weakness, especially as neither Uchiyama nor Sasada have been lucky with their difficult but inconsistent sets, her calm consistency could come in handy as it gets closer to Rio.
Other medalists included Ayu Koike with a 14.375 for silver on vault, Soyoka Hanawa with a 13.875 for bronze on vault, Kiko Kuwajima with a 14.0 for silver on beam and a 13.55 for bronze on floor, and Urara Ashikawa with a 13.8 for bronze on beam. It’s a shame Kuwajima is only 14, as she could probably fill that bars and beam spot quite well, but she still has a whole quad ahead of her to prepare for Tokyo 2020.
Article by Lauren Hopkins