The competition combined scores from today’s competition with the scores from the all-around final at the All-Japan Championships held in April. Murakami won that competition with a 56.450 while Sugihara placed second with a 54.450, so these two came into the NHK Trophy with an advantage over the rest of the competitors, including Olympic teammate Asuka Teramoto, who wasn’t at her best at All-Japan, placing fifth.
Murakami extended her lead from two points at All-Japan to over four points between the two competitions, earning a 56.150 for an excellent performance today to total 112.600 to win the gold. Murakami has been pretty much flawless so far this year, and today was no exception. She posted the top scores on beam and floor, looking solid on both, and also showed a clean and powerful DTY as well as a tidy bars set to put up the third-best scores on both.
She’s clearly at her best right now, and the one reason I love Japan naming its team so early is that the top gymnasts, like Murakami, don’t have to spend the next four months worrying about impressing a selection committee week in and week out. She’s in, and now she can focus on staying healthy and prepared.
Things actually got scary close between Sugihara and Teramoto for the second confirmed spot, with Teramoto coming back from a one-point deficit with a powerful Rudi and the top bars score of the day to sit in second place ahead of Sugihara after the second and third rotations today. The two were roughly equal on beam, but Sugihara had the better floor between the two, coming in at a two-day total of 108.550 to Teramoto’s 108.400 (Teramoto actually had the highest single score today, with a 54.900 to Sugihara’s 54.100).
In years with team competitions at worlds, this wouldn’t be a big deal, as the top three all-arounders from this meet directly qualify…but in an individual year, only the two best all-arounders get to go, though I doubt Teramoto has anything to worry about. She showed the best combination of bars and beam, so when the final two team members are decided at next month’s All-Japan Event Championships, she’ll easily be one of the two.
Sugihara had another great day, making some routine changes that will help her be a more consistent competitor. She tried a DTY upgrade earlier this year, but struggled with it, and so now she’s competing a 1½ and it works much better for her. Sugihara had solid performances on bars and beam, and looked lovely with a brand-new floor routine, earning a 13.15 for the third-best score of the day there.
With Murakami and Sugihara confirmed for worlds and Teramoto likely to earn a spot, I’d say the fourth worlds team member will be Sae Miyakawa, meaning four of the five gymnasts who competed at Rio are likely to represent Japan once again this year in Montreal. Miyakawa was kind of a disaster on bars and beam and placed only ninth all-around because of her low scores there, but her Rudi on vault was fabulous, earning an event-best 15.05, and her 6.2 start value on floor is better than any other gymnast in the world by HALF A POINT right now, which is insane. She’s still working on landings, but her 13.75 was second best today and is one of the higher scores on this event so far this quad, so with a little more cleanup she’ll absolutely challenge along with Murakami for a floor medal.
Outside of this top group, Nagi Kajita was fourth with a 107.650, Shiho Nakaji surprised with a brilliant 14.0 beam to finish fifth with a 106.900, 2016 Olympic alternate Natsumi Sasada also had a superb beam — tying Nakaji’s score — to finish sixth with a 106.150, Hitomi Hatakeda looked good on bars and finished seventh with a 105.200, and first-year senior Natsumi Hanashima was eighth with a 104.500.
While most of last year’s Olympic team had some great success here, unfortunately Yuki Uchiyama struggled, placing tenth with a 103.150. Uchiyama excels on bars and beam, but she had a fall on beam at All-Japan, and then today, she struggled on both of these events in addition to having mistakes on floor, posting just a 50.95 all-around. In a perfect world, she and Sasada could bring some pretty fierce competition against Teramoto for a specialist spot, but neither has been consistent or strong enough to make it happen and would need to do something really remarkable next month to get on the team.
Article by Lauren Hopkins