Sugihara Sweeps in Olympic Return

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In her first competition back since her Olympic performance two months ago, 17-year-old Aiko Sugihara swept all five titles at the All-Japan Senior Championships, a club gym competition held in Tokyo over the weekend.

The baby of the team in Rio, Sugihara solidified herself as one of the country’s top all-arounders since making her senior debut last year. The winner of the NHK Trophy as well as last year’s Asian Championships all-around title, Sugihara performed beautifully in qualifications at the Games this August, but despite finishing 16th with a score of 56.866, she couldn’t move on to the all-around final due to the two-per-country rule (she finished two tenths behind her teammate who did qualify).

Still, she kept her head up in Rio despite the individual disappointment, and helped the team to a fourth-place finish in team finals with her beautiful work on bars, beam, and floor. This was the best Olympic finish for the Japanese women since 1968, a good sign as they go forward to host the Games four years from now in Tokyo.

“It was frustrating because there were mistakes,” Sugihara said about finishing fourth about two points away from earning a medal, and so when she returned from the Olympics, she immediately got to work on increasing both her difficulty and her technique so by the time Tokyo 2020 rolls around, she can be the captain and star of a team that will hopefully medal in front of a home crowd.

Her hard work is already paying off, and I think Sugihara will be a star in the coming quad. This weekend, Sugihara earned a 57.7 in the all-around, partly thanks to a brand-new DTY upgrade that earned a 14.6. “I’ve never stood it up in practice,” Sugihara smiled at a press conference following the meet. The vault was a bit low with a step over to the side, but she maintained excellent form almost until the landing. For the first time out, it was a great attempt.

She was happy with everything else as well, getting a 14.4 on bars, a 14.1 on beam, and a 14.6 on floor helping her to a nearly six-point win over the silver medalist. On bars she showed clean handstands and fought for a stick on her full-in dismount, she went for her hopefully future eponymous double Y turn on beam and hit it with a slight wobble, and her floor has never looked better.

There were two other Olympians in the mix this weekend, both on Sugihara’s Asahi Seimei club team. Manami Ishizaka, a member of Japan’s 2004 Olympic team, returned to competition for the first time in ten years at age 30, placing fifth all-around with a total of 51.35 and earning the bronze medal on bars with a 12.75. The team also had Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina, 41, as a guest competitor with downgraded routines on vault and floor.

Not very many elites competed at this meet, and so we saw some mostly new faces filling out the top five, including Sachiko Maeda in second with a 52.05, Mizuki Nishi in third with a 51.9, and Erica Danko in fourth with a 51.45. Nishi won vault and bars silver while Maeda won silver on beam and floor, Masami Ikeda (seventh all-around with a 49.4) tied for the silver medal on vault and won bronze on floor, and Danko won bronze on beam.

Full results are available here.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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