What Went Down at Japanese Nationals

Gymnastics is back. In a charitable effort to save us all from the ongoing apocalypse, Japan contested the All-Japan senior championships yesterday—the first live gymnastics competition I’ve watched in over six months. And not a moment too soon.

Perhaps you, like me, decided to pretend that this was worlds and live-tweet quick hits of the competition from bed in the middle of the night, but if you’re not an extremely rad, cool person like me and my friend Nobody…here’s what happened.

In the women’s competition, Mai Murakami was like, “Remember that time you didn’t take me to worlds because of a technicality in the selection procedures even though I’m the best, and then you ended up barely qualifying a team to your home Olympics as a result, and honestly you would have deserved to miss out because you actively didn’t take your best team? Because I do remember that.”

Or something to that effect. That’s the Google Translate version of her performance.

Mai crushed the competition into a little marble, winning the all-around by two points with a score of 56.600—a total that would have been worthy of bronze at worlds last year. The scoring showed a dash of home charity to the tune of a couple tenths here and there, though nothing egregious or out of the ordinary for a domestic competition. Mai performed a comfortable-looking Silivas and DLO on floor, easily executed an exquisite DTY on vault for a warranted 9.500 E score, and didn’t even fall on any turns on beam, so it was a big win in every respect. An arched handstand on bars that had to be pulled back and a short double pike beam dismount were really the only semi-significant blemishes in the performance.

We didn’t exactly need convincing that Mai is the top gymnast in the country and frontrunner to make Japan’s Olympic team, but the rest of the competition provided only minimal additional clarity for the remaining spots.

Asuka Teramoto competed for the first time since tearing her Achilles, showing just a bars routine but executing it comfortably enough for 13.966. It was not quite as crisp as we would expect from her given full, healthy preparation, but she showed solid difficulty and got through a complete routine without incident. Normal-level Asuka Teramoto is also a lock for Japan’s team, so for her it’s basically a matter of getting back to competing the all-around in time before Japan names its Olympic team—which knowing Japan will probably be tomorrow.

Team constant Hitomi Hatakeda also performed well, hitting four events, placing 3rd in the all-around, and reconfirming her place in the hierarchy with a smooth and necessary bars routine and the top score on that event.

Given the absence of typical “other member of the team” Aiko Sugihara, there was definite room at this competition for someone else to start to stake her claim as an upset contender for the four-person Olympic team. That said, I would not have expected it to be Yuna Hiraiwa, who was not even competing in the main subdivision with the top athletes but performed so well that she scored a 54.632 that held up for all-around silver and forced the broadcast to be like, “you guys have to see this from earlier” when TV joined the competition for the famouses. Her exquisite two-footed layout on beam helped earn her the top score on that event as the only athlete who broke 14.

That same opportunity to emerge among the main crop of contenders existed for Chiaki Hatakeda—Hitomi’s younger sister and a new 2020 senior—but it was not to be at this competition. She has the talent and the difficulty, so it still could happen for her, but a three-fall performance with a hand down on a DTY, a wrong-way handstand on bars, and a miss on a side aerial + layout stepout on beam took her all the way down to 15th in the AA.

And what of Sae Miyakawa? Well, the erasure was strong. The broadcast cut away every time she was about to compete, but it looks like she did record strong numbers on floor and vault with 13.233 on floor and 14.833 on vault, scores that have to keep her toward the front of the conversation if Japan were to earn a second +1 individual spot for the Olympics (or if Japan were OK with taking a VT/FX gymnast as part of the four, though the tendency to focus on rank order in their selection process makes me skeptical of that possibility).

Akari Matsumura, 2019 world team member, did not have a strong competition, competing just a Yfull on vault, missing on beam, and placing 25th on floor. Her numerous peers in the “I get high vault scores at domestic competitions” club, however, made appearances yesterday, including Ayaka Sakaguchi who went 14.633.

On the men’s side, Kazuma Kaya fulfilled the prophecy and won the all-around competition with 86.998, more than a point ahead of Wataru Tanigawa in second. Kaya stuck nearly every pass on floor in the first rotation, and it seemed clear from that point that he was going to skate to the all-around victory. Kaya was…exceptionally pumped throughout, about everything, always, especially how he mostly managed to not die on a Kas 2/1. Tanigawa did take the top score on vault with his excellent double front pike for 14.900.

In “Kohei Is A High Bar Specialist Now” news, Kohei did indeed perform his much-discussed Bretschneider and caught it, but caught too close to swing out of, leading to some improvisation and a nonetheless still-worthwhile 14.200 score.

But it was Hidetaka Miyachi who stole the show on high bar by hitting all of it. All the things. And scoring a remarkable 15.366 for doing so.

We all expect Kohei to be taken to the Olympics in a +1 capacity for Japan to do high bar, because of Kohei Reasons, but it is worth noting that Miyachi scored more than a point better than he did.

Kenzo, meanwhile, placed 24th in the all-around but third on vault with a TTY that he got about 2.63 twists around and then smiled so sheepishly about it for so long that the judges were like, “Oh Kenzo we can’t stay mad at you” and gave him credit for the triple. I don’t think they were quite as forgiving in the skill -redit department on floor, where a 14.400 put Kenzo in just 9th place on the event.

The top floor performance belonged to Takumi Sato who went 15.033, while Kohei Kameyama won pommel horse with a 15.133, Kazuya Takahashi won rings with 14.800, and Kaya won PBars with 14.666, in addition to the aforementioned event victories for W Tanigawa and Miyachi.

Carlos Yulo—who trains in Japan and competes at nationals—won the award for Most 2020, falling on a flair sequence.


In the biggest upset of the competition, however, everyone lost to Kosuke Morita.

9 thoughts on “What Went Down at Japanese Nationals”

  1. I like the way Hiraiwa works into and out of her first wolf turn. I could have done without the second one, though.

    Also, I laughed out loud at ‘Most 2020 award’. This needs to be a thing at year-end!

  2. How can Uchimura be taken as a +1 for HB? Isn’t Epke’s qualification for HB definate?

    1. Japan is likely to qualify at least one non nominative spot through Continental Championships and AA series, kohei could go on one of these spots.

  3. I kinda love how Miyachi can do fifteen Kovacs variations perfectly but is actually unable to do a stalder half to handstand. lol

    1. Men can be 30 degrees off handstand before they get a 0.3 deduction. Turns ending in mixed or double el grip get no deduction at 30 degrees or less off handstand.

      So not entirely apples to apples with the expectations for women’s uneven bars.

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