At the conclusion of this weekend’s All-Japan Event Championships held in Takasaki, the Japanese federation added Kitazono Takeru and Tanigawa Wataru to its men’s Olympic team, and named three-time Olympic champion Uchimura Kohei to compete as an indivdual.
Kitazono, the 2018 Youth Olympic Games all-around champion who went on to win gold on pommel horse and parallel bars at junior world championships a year later, competed in the finals for every event but rings and vault this weekend, and placed in the top six on each. The 18-year-old led the all-around qualification at All-Japan Championships in April, but mistakes and an injury dropped him to sixth in the final, and he finished only ninth at the NHK Trophy in May, but now that he is in a good place with his recovery, he was back in consideration as one of the best options to fulfill a number of roles on the team.
Two-time world bronze medalist Tanigawa Wataru also got the nod for the team after finishing third on pommels and fourth on p-bars this weekend, on top of his second-place all-around finish at April’s national championships and his bronze medal at the NHK Trophy, where he also posted the top score on vault. Tanigawa, 24, has been a productive member of the team this quad and will bring balance and consistency to the men’s team in Tokyo.
The two join the previously announced Hashimoto Daiki and Kaya Kazuma, who won their spots with their top-two all-around finishes at the NHK Trophy.
In addition to the four who will be part of the team, the federation also earned a non-nominative individual berth through the reallocation of the all-around world cup series spots, which went to the top three teams in qualifications at the 2019 world championships. Japan has a number of world class specialists who put on great performances at the event championships, but ultimately went with Uchimura, a legend in the sport who has one of the most difficult and top-scoring high bar sets in the world.
Uchimura actually finished second in the high bar finals here with a 15.1, less than half a tenth behind Hashimoto. His qualifications performance, however, was the best routine the world has seen so far this year, earning a 15.766 to come in nearly a point over the next-best in the competition. The world high bar champion in 2015 and runner up in both 2014 and 2018, Uchimura is hoping to earn his first Olympic high bar medal this summer.
The event winners in Takasaki included Minami Kazuki with a 15.3 on floor, Ichiguchi Yamato with a 15.766 on pommel horse, Kamoto Yuya with a 15.166 on rings, Yonekura Hidenobu with a 15.15 average on vault, Tanaka Yusuke with a 15.4 on parallel bars, and Hashimoto with a 15.133 on high bar.
Japan has the potential to earn one more individual Olympic spot at the Doha World Cup later this month, where Kameyama Kohei is leading the series on pommel horse, while Yonekura is hoping to get the spot on vault, where he’s currently ranked second.
The gymnasts selected for the Olympic team at the NHK Trophy were dominant in the women’s competition, where Murakami Mai won the gold medals on vault and beam, Hatakeda Hitomi won the title on bars, and Sugihara Aiko was the best on floor. Hiraiwa Yuna competed only in the beam final, placing fourth, while Ashikawa Urara, who has mathematically sealed an individual spot thanks to her beam performances at the apparatus world cups, missed out on this final, placing 10th in qualifications after an uncharacteristic fall.
Article by Lauren Hopkins