The NHK Trophy begins in just a few short hours, but this year, it’s not only the title that’s up for grabs. The competition will also determine the Olympic teams, with the top three all-arounders – based on a combination of all-around scores both here and at last month’s All-Japan Championships – automatically earning spots.
In the women’s competition, Murakami Mai comes in as a frontrunner for an automatic Olympic berth thanks to a two-point lead following her All-Japan win. With a combined score of 112.564, Murakami – a 2016 Olympian who won three world medals between 2017 and 2018 – will be incredibly tough to beat, and even with mistakes or a couple of falls, she is still likely to come out on top.
Just behind her at All-Japan is another likely lock for the Olympics, Hatakeda Hitomi, who like Murakami had a solid two-point gap over the rest of the competition. Hatakeda had incredibly strong performances both days in Takasaki, and is historically the most consistent on bars and beam for Japan. As a leading member of both the 2018 and 2019 world championships teams, Hatakeda would be an invaluable member of the team after missing out five years ago.
While these two seem secure in their positions, however, the third automatic spot will be tough. At All-Japan, 22-year-old Hiraiwa Yuna – who came back from multiple injuries to shockingly end up a legitimate contender last year – was third with a 108.631, but 2016 Olympian Sugihara Aiko was right on her heels with a 108.498 after upgrading her vault back to a Yurchenko double and also showing an incredible performance on beam. In addition to these two, Soma Ui – the U.S. transplant who became a senior last year – had a 107.831, two-time Olympian Teramoto Asuka came back from her Achilles injury to finish with a 107.162, and Hatakeda’s little sister Hatakeda Chiaki, a first-year senior in 2020, had a 106.929, with all five of these gymnasts within 1.7 points of each other.
The third automatic berth will depend on which of these gymnasts can hit at NHK. The fourth spot will then go to a gymnast who best complements the three who qualify automatically, and I assume it will also be someone in that group of five above, as there are no “specialists” per se who could factor in. The only real “specialist” in the mix is probably Miyakawa Sae, who had some good performances on vault and floor last month, but wasn’t in the top three on either and given how strong the top all-arounders are on both events, I don’t see her realistically fitting into the team picture, especially because she’d have to finish within the top eight in the all-around to be considered.
As for the men, where do I even begin?! The talented young Kitazono Takeru, who dominated at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018, led qualifications at All-Japan with an 87.332, but he finished only sixth all-around in the final with a 170.197 combined score after major mistakes on vault and high bar. Instead, the All-Japan title went to Hashimoto Daiki with a 173.365, including an 88.532 in the final, while Tanigawa Wataru was second with a 172.728 and Kaya Kazuma was third with a 172.696.
Since so many of the men are so close, with a total of seven guys scoring above a 170 total, it’s impossible to say both who will win this weekend and who the three who automatically qualify to Tokyo will be. I think a team of Hashimoto, Tanigawa, Kaya, and Kitazono would be an incredibly complimentary team, with rings really the only event that wouldn’t score tremendously well at the Olympics, but I’m also expecting that we could see some big surprises.
The women’s competition will be held on Saturday, May 15, at 1:15 pm in Nagano, while the men’s competition will be held on Sunday at 12:10 pm. Live scores are available here, and the event will also be streamed via NHK, though you’ll either need to be in Japan or use a VPN to watch.
A full list of competitors is below.
Article by Lauren Hopkins