This year’s All-Japan Championships – the “main” national championships for senior and junior elite all-arounders in Japan – will take place this weekend, and all of the top contenders for the women’s Olympic team are expected to compete.
Most notably challenging for the title will of course be Murakami Mai, the Olympian and world champion who most recently won the All-Japan Senior Championships in September with a 56.600. She’s someone who rarely has a bad day, but even if she’s competing at 80% of what she’s fully capable of, I don’t think anyone’s going to be capable of beating her. The All-Japan champion in 2016, 2017, and 2018, a fall on beam in qualifications cost her the title in 2019, but with a little more room between her skill level and that of the rest of the field this year, I think she can afford a mistake or two and still come out on top.
But as for those must up for the challenge? Teramoto Asuka was slightly downgraded in her vault and floor difficulty when she returned to the all-around last month for the first time since rupturing her Achilles, though a clean and solid day for her could still see her reach the podium. Sugihara Aiko, who won the All-Japan Student Championships in October, has been looking better than ever after injuries have held her back this quad, and the Hatakeda sisters, Hitomi and Chiaki, both looked fabulous on beam at the Friendship & Solidarity meet last month, always an advantage in a program where this is often a tricky apparatus.
I also need to remind you of Hiraiwa Yuna‘s game-changing comeback, because if anyone has the potential to sneak onto the Tokyo team next year, it’s her. Once a top new senior for Japan back in 2014, Hiraiwa was originally named to the worlds team that year after finishing third at All-Japan Championships, but an injury took her out at the last minute, and a series of additional injuries in the five years that followed meant she was never quite able to make everything come together, and she spent a lot of time hiding out in obscurity, competing the occasional brilliant routine at a team or event championships, but bombing the meets that count, leaving her out of contention for international assignments.
In September, though, she showed up at Senior Championships with a Yurchenko double on vault for the first time in years, and she was also killer on beam, where she had the top score of 14.033, and on floor, where she performed a double layout, 2½ to front full, a front double full, and exquisite leaps for a 13.533, the second-best score of the meet behind Murakami. If she can stay consistent and prove herself again this weekend, she has a huge shot of not only making the podium here, but also of being part of the Olympic team decision next summer.
2019 world team members Kajita Nagi and Matsumura Akari will also compete this weekend, as will 2016 Olympian Uchiyama Yuki, who had a really strong performance at All-Japan Student Championships this year, winning the bars, floor, and all-around titles in the lower division. We’ll also see Ashikawa Urara, who has essentially secured an Olympic berth via the apparatus world cups thanks to her stellar work on beam throughout the series, and 2016 Olympian Miyakawa Sae, who has struggled over the past few years after her coach was suspended due to abuse allegations when a video surfaced in which he was seen yelling at and slapping Miyakawa. In September, though, she looked to be at nearly full strength on vault, and not that far away on floor as well, so it will be interesting to see if she’s made further improvement since then.
A full list of WAG competitors is below. The women will compete in the qualifying round on Thursday, with the all-around final held on Saturday afternoon, with the final broadcast live on NHK. We’ll link to the stream once available, and we’ll also be back previewing the men’s competition tomorrow.
Article by Lauren Hopkins