After this weekend’s All-Japan Event Championships in Takasaki, the Japanese federation has announced that two-time Olympian Asuka Teramoto and 2016 Olympian Sae Miyakawa will join their Rio teammates Mai Murakami and Aiko Sugihara at this year’s world championships in Montreal.
Murakami and Sugihara were named to the team after placing first and second at last month’s NHK Trophy, where Teramoto came a close third and was expected to earn a specialist spot going forward thanks to her strong routines on bars and beam. Miyakawa, meanwhile, struggles in the all-around due to weaknesses on those two events, but she was so strong on vault and floor, she was a pretty clear choice for the final spot, with no one else in the country able to come close to touching her.
On vault, Miyakawa has a Rudi and DTY combo that gives her some of the highest combined difficulty in the world right now, on par with Coline Devillard of France and right behind Wang Yan of China. Neither vault is perfect, but she looked about as good as we can expect this weekend to easily take the title.
Her floor, currently the most difficult in the world by half a point at a whopping 6.2, has been hit or miss this season, with even the domestic judges in Japan not rewarding her very well in terms of her execution. At All-Japan, her qualifications routine earned only a 13.45, but she finally had everything come together in finals with a routine that would be virtually unbeatable on an international stage.
With her front full to double front, a full-twisting double layout, a double double, and a double layout all hit incredibly well, Miyakawa’s routine in Sunday’s finals was glorious. She earned her best score of the season with a 14.1 to win the title, still with some heavy deductions, but I honestly thought the execution judges were being quite harsh, especially considering how some routines at Euros were scored. I literally can’t see this routine going up at worlds and being outscored by some of the other gymnasts who have earned similar scores so far this year, if she hits as well as she did here. But given her history of mistakes, will she hit like this at worlds? That’s the real question.
Teramoto, meanwhile, won the silver medal on bars and the gold on beam, with her 14.1 beam score especially promising, as she has a great chance at making the final on that event. Her routine was great in finals, with a big wobble on her Onodi, though she was otherwise solid, finishing with a clean triple full dismount, coming away from the event with both the highest D and E scores in addition to the gold.
None of the Japanese gymnasts are really strong enough to make much of an international impression on bars, but with a 13.8 there on Sunday and scores that generally all fall around that range, Teramoto again proved to be a top bar worker in the country. Even though she probably won’t get a finals spot there based on the current state of uneven bars internationally, she’s totally worth bringing for beam alone, as well as potentially being a backup all-arounder.
One of the all-around spots currently belongs to Sugihara, who won the spot by about a tenth over Teramoto at the NHK Trophy last month. It was a lucky break, as Teramoto is actually the stronger of the two right now, but had a fall in one leg of the competition which kept her from initially qualifying.
Sugihara is injured, though, and not at full strength. The good thing about naming the team this early is that she has plenty of time to get back to her best in time for worlds, but if for some reason she doesn’t, she and Teramoto could easily swap places, with Teramoto ending up in the all-around while Sugihara can focus on beam.
In Takasaki, Sugihara wasn’t in top form, but still made the finals on bars and floor, finishing fourth with a 13.4 and fifth with a 13.25, respectively. Her bars were very nice, aside from some steps on her dismount landing, and on floor she had some landing deductions as well, in addition to coming up short on her quad turn.
Things didn’t go as planned for her on beam, where she finished 11th with a 12.9 in qualifications, but I think once she’s back to full strength she’ll be fine. She came into the season with quite a few upgrades that had to be reversed as she heals, but again, there’s still a significant amount of time before Montreal for her to get those back again.
Murakami is the undisputed star of this team. Since Rio, she’s had virtually zero mistakes. She won the All-Japan Championships in April and the NHK Trophy in May, posting the top scores on beam and floor at both in addition to putting up strong vault scores thanks to her powerful DTY. Of her five floor routines so far in 2017, she’s earned a 14.0 or better on each, not only currently holding this year’s top score record with a 14.25, but all five of her scores fall in the top 13, which is kind of badass. She’s long overdue for a medal of some sort, and I’m hoping with every ounce of my being that she’ll medal in the all-around or on floor this year at worlds.
This weekend, Murakami qualified second on vault and first on floor. Miyakawa overtook her on floor in the final, leaving Murakami with the silver medal in what was a super close race, with Murakami earning a 14.0 to Miyakawa’s 14.1, making Japan pretty unreal on this event right now.
The big surprise came on vault, though. Instead of her trusty DTY, Murakami threw an Amanar, becoming the first Japanese gymnast to attempt the vault, though she unfortunately crashed to finish with a 13.85, averaging a 13.775 to finish fifth after hitting her tsuk full with a couple of steps back.
An Amanar would make Murakami a lock for the podium in Montreal if she hits every event in finals, so I’m sure she’ll continue trying to work on and perfect this vault in the lead-up to worlds. If it doesn’t end up working out, she’s still got a major chance, but if she does find consistency there, everyone step aside because this girl is gonna kill it.
Hitomi Hatakeda made a valiant bid for the worlds team this year, and while a great, balanced all-arounder — she’ll seriously be perfect for the team next year — she just didn’t have enough of a standout apparatus to make her worth taking along for an individual competition. She did win the bars title with a 13.95, and is generally quite consistent there, but again, that won’t be competitive at all really in an international field, so it was kind of a no-brainer when choosing between her and Teramoto, though Hatakeda could’ve benefitted from the experience.
The Japanese federation hasn’t yet named an alternate, at least not that I’ve seen, but my guess is Hatakeda will get that spot no questions asked, as she can step in literally anywhere and be totally ready to go. In addition to her bars title, Hatakeda also placed fourth on beam with a 13.25, and after a mishap on her Podkopayeva, ended up last on vault with a 13.25 average, though her first vault — a Yurchenko 1½ — was fabulous.
So far this year, the 2000-born Hatakeda has two international titles under her belt — International Gymnix in March and Gym Festival Trnava in early June — and she was seventh all-around at the NHK Trophy, earning the fifth-best score at that meet, though her combined total was affected by her fall at All-Japan.
Other replacement options for worlds are Nagi Kajita and Shiho Nakaji. Like Hatakeda, Kajita is a well-balanced all-arounder with generally good results, though she lacks a true standout event, though she did well in Takasaki, placing sixth on bars and fourth on floor.
Nakaji, meanwhile, is excellent on beam, having scored in the 14-range several times this season. She has a fab Onodi mount, and generally clean and fluid work, leading the event in qualifications with a 13.75, though a fall on her Onodi in the interior of her routine caused her to place seventh with a 12.7 in finals.
Veteran Natsumi Sasada had a rough bars performance in qualifications, but made the finals on beam and floor. On beam, she earned a 13.9 to take the silver medal showing incredible focus and determination on all of her skills, but on floor she placed eighth, unable to put together strong landings and falling on her final pass to finish with an 11.3.
The problem with Sasada is that when she’s on, she’s SO good, and would still be a viable option for teams at full strength, but she’s just so inconsistent, it’s hard to seriously justify taking her along at this point, which is unfortunate because she’s truly a beautiful gymnast.
Junior Soyoka Hanawa won the silver medal on vault with a 14.4 average and Hinako Bundo won the bronze with a 14.075 average. Hanawa performed a DTY with loose knees for a 14.25 and a surprisingly powerful Rudi for a 14.55, though she also had slightly loose knees and leg separation there. It was great to see a junior competing senior-level difficulty on two different family vaults, though, and she looks super promising for the future.
Bundo, whom I’ve never seen compete before this and was thus quite surprised, hit her DTY for a 14.45, and also showed a beautiful tsuk full for a 13.7, and Rina Aoki also competed a DTY, earning a 14.3 for that vault and placing fourth with a 13.8 average. I’m pretty sure Japan has the greatest vault depth in the world right now, with several Rudis on top of a surprising number of DTYs, which is awesome for their program. You never know when an injury will strike, and vault is the easiest place to make up lost ground when you have a good number of gymnasts who might not be internationally competitive on most events but can whip out a solid DTY if needed. Super impressed with this, Japan.
The bronze on bars went to Yuriko Yamamoto, who earned a 13.75, competing a Gienger, toe-on Tkachev, and two Jaegers (one piked, one straddled). 2016 Olympian Yuki Uchiyama, who has struggled quite a bit this season, ended up eighth here after qualifying second, breaking her rhythm on a pirouette and falling to earn a 12.7. Olympic alternate Marina Kawasaki also fell, placing ninth with a 12.25 after missing her hand on her van Leeuwen.
Urara Ashikawa was a surprise bronze medalist on beam, looking clean and finishing strong with a triple full dismount for a 13.45, coming in ahead over gymnasts like Hatakeda, Nakaji, first-year senior Natsumi Hanashima, who had a wobble at the beginning of her routine, and top junior Mana Oguchi.
While Miyakawa and Murakami were untouchable on floor, Oguchi came out with the bronze medal, earning a 13.45 to finish ahead of a field of senior competitors. The adorable Oguchi, who turns senior next year, opened with a powerful and floaty double layout to split jump, and also competed a 2½ to front full, a Mustafina turn (finished only a hair shy of reaching the triple), an awesome front double full to punch front tuck, and a strong double tuck to finish. Her difficulty, a 5.5, is one of the top in the world, and while she may not be quite at Miyakawa and Murakami’s level right this second, she shows all the potential in the world to get there eventually. Keep your eyes on this kid!
Now that all is said and done, I think the four going to worlds are absolutely the four who should be going to worlds, though my confidence in Japan right now is so high that should anyone not make it through the next few months, they have plenty of gymnasts who can step in as top-notch replacements.
Full results from the All-Japan Event Championships are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins