Through the years, the Japanese women have never had the success of their teammates from the men’s side, but they have established Japan as a strong gymnastics country by qualifying to multiple team and event finals at the world championships and the Olympic Games and winning medals at world cups and continental championships. Unsurprisingly, they have qualified a full team for Glasgow by placing 6th during qualifications at last year’s worlds and now they have the chance to fight for a spot in next year’s Olympics. In order to do that, they will need to be one of the top 8 teams during qualifications and therefore make it into team finals. And if past performances are any indication, they have an excellent chance to achieve that. They have accomplished great results during 2015 and they have shined as a team winning a silver medal at Universiade and most importantly, a gold medal at the Asian Championships, where they beat the great team of China. It’s important to note that China was represented by a group of young and inexperienced gymnasts who were hoping to earn some valuable experience while Japan sent their absolute best athletes to this event, but that doesn’t make their gold medal any less shiny. The same athletes who participated in the Asian Championships will also represent their country in the upcoming world championships.
The leader of the team is 20-years-old Asuka Teramoto. This time last quad, Asuka was making her senior debut and she was preparing for her first world championships so it’s amazing to see how far she has come in the sport since then. She became an Olympian in 2012 and she did an excellent job in London, helping her team to make it into team finals and placing 11th in the All Around. She has also been a two times world event finalist and she came as close as one possibly could to winning a medal at last year’s worlds. 2015 has been an excellent year for her, since she shined at international competitions like the Universiade, where she placed second in the All Around and balance beam and the Asian Championships, where she won an All Around bronze and a beam silver medal. In addition to that, she has done a fantastic job at national competitions, becoming Japan’s All Around and uneven bars national champion while also grabbing an All Around bronze medal at the NHK Trophy and winning the All Around at All Japan College Championships. Asuka is Japan’s most experienced athlete and she is expected to lead her team to an Olympic spot and qualify into the All Around finals.
An other world team member who has been one of Japan’s top gymnasts for a while now is Natsumi Sasada. Through the years, she has had some disappointing moments – who can forget her tears after not making the podium at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games – but she has been extremely successful in national competitions during this quad, winning the 2013 and the 2014 national All Around titles. She has also participated in two world championships and she has been a world All Around finalist. The highlight of her 2015 has to be the bronze All Around medal she earned at the Universiade as well as her uneven bars and All Around bronze and floor exercise gold at Woga Classic and her silver medal at the NHK Trophy. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to defend her national title this year and she underperformed at the Asian Championships, where she failed to qualify to any individual finals. However she is a solid All Arounder who can help the team on every event if needed and at the age of 20 she has plenty of experience.
Those two veterans are the only members of the 2014 team who will be returning to worlds. They will be joined by younger athletes, who turned senior during this quad. One of them is 17-years-old Yuki Uchiyama, who has shown significant improvement during the year. Yuki started making a name for herself as a junior when she represented Japan at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships and now she is proving that she is competitive in the senior level as well. The most exciting result she achieved this year was the 2nd place finish at the Japanese Championships. She also won a silver medal on floor at the Japanese Event championships and she did an excellent job at the Asian Games, where she posted solid scores to help the team win the gold medal, placed 5th All Around during qualifications and made it into the bars finals where she finished in the fifth place.
Then, we have 18-years-old Sakura Yumoto, who shows fantastic potential on balance beam. She was part of the bronze medal winning team that represented Japan at the 2014 Asian Games has come very close to winning medals on balance beam during the year, since she placed fourth at both the Asian Championships and the Japanese Event championships. She struggled a bit at Universiade but her massive 6.4 start value on beam is very valuable to the team and she is also a good All Arounder, who placed forth at the NHK Trophy and 6th at the Japanese Championships.
The last two members of the team are both first year seniors who have already achieved great results despite their young age and lack of experience and they show the potential to be among the country’s biggest stars in the future. Most people should already be familiar with the ridiculously talented Sae Miyakawa who stole the hearts of many gymnastics fans with her fabulous and clean tumbling in 2013. Sae represented Japan at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, where she won a bronze medal on vault. She started her first senior year at WOGA classic. She had lots of mistakes but she showed major upgrades and great promise for the future. Later this year, she earned a gold medal on vault at the Japanese Event championships, she placed 6th All Around at the NHK Trophy and most importantly, she earned a silver and a bronze medal on vault and floor at the Asian Championships. She still is terribly inconsistent, but if she manages to handle her nerves and do what she’s capable of doing, she could achieve fantastic things at worlds.
The other first year senior heading to her first world championships at Glasgow is Aiko Sugihara. As a junior, she wasn’t as famous as her more spectacular teammate but she is getting more and more attention after all her amazing achievements during 2015. She earned a bronze and a silver medal at the Japanese Event Championships and she continued to win the NHK Trophy. After this terrific success she earned a spot in Japan’s worlds team and she really shined at the Asian Championships, where she became the All Around champion while also winning silver medals on bars and floor. With her impressive level of difficulty and her clean execution, Aiko is a very valuable athlete for the team and she has the potential to become one of Japan’s all Around finalists.
Notably absent from the team is two times Olympian Koko Tsurumi and two times world team member Mai Murakami. Koko had just returned to competition after struggling with injuries for the biggest part of 2014 and she delivered a gorgeous bars set at WOGA Classic. Her chances looked great when she placed 5th All Around at the Japanese Championships but she unfortunately injured her Achilles at the NHK Trophy. This is definitely a big loss for Japan since Koko is one of their few gymnasts they have capable of scoring above 15. Mai on the other hand is healthy and she has produced some excellent performances on vault and floor during this year but she didn’t show enough consistency to be selected for worlds. Thankfully, the country has a fairly deep field of athletes and their world team is strong on every single event.
Japan has never been famous for their work on vault, but this time they have a very solid line up, which potentially includes three full twisting yurchenkos, one yurchenko double full and two rudis. Sasada, Yuki and Sakura are the athletes capable of FTYs with Sasada’s being the cleanest one and Sakura’s the least dynamic. New senior Aiko Sugihara recently added an extra half twist to her yurchenko 1.5 and she now has a 5.8 vault that is very valuable to her team. Unfortunately, she underrotated it during the Asian Championships and it got downgraded, which was rather surprising given how lenient the scoring was at this competition. Hopefully, she will be able to perform it better at worlds. After performing yurchenko vaults for her entire elite career, Asuka surprised us all by revealing a rudi at the end of 2013. Being capable of such a difficult skill in what is supposed to be her weakest event is obviously a fantastic achievement but she struggles to keep her form clean and her chest upright when she lands. She doesn’t seem to be completely comfortable with that vault yet and she often downgrades to a front layout half out. The best vaulter of the team is 2014 Youth Olympic Games and Asian championships vault medalist Sae Miyakawa, who is capable of a rudi and a double twisting yurchenko. She still needs to improve her form and her block but she is a very important addition to the team on this event. Some of the strongest gymnastics countries in the world would kill to have two 6 + vaults. In fact plenty of the countries who have qualified full teams, including some strong contenders for the team finals like Australia and Germany, are struggling to find more than one DTYs for their line up so Japan has a significant advantage here.
Same goes for uneven bars. While countries like Italy, Canada, Brazil and Romania are desperate for any routine that can break 14, Japan has always been very strong on this event and this year is no exception. Despite the absence of their best bars worker, Koko Tsurumi, they still have strong athletes with world class difficulty and fantastic execution. The athlete who will most likely not perform on this event during qualifications is either Sae or Sakura. They both have beautiful jaegers and strong dismounts, but the rest of their routines is not particularly difficult and Sae is also terribly inconsistent on this event. Thankfully, the rest of the team is much stronger. WOGA classic bronze medalist, Natsumi Sasada starts with a very unique combination that I always enjoy: a jam to handstand into a jaeger and she’s capable of a lovely tkatcev while Asian championships finalist Yuki Uchiyama has an impressive Komova 2 into a pak salto and an inbar half into a jaeger. Asian silver medalist, Aiko Sugihara also has some fabulous inbar work and she’s capable of an inbar full, an inbar + inbar half + jaeger combination and a straddle full into a bail to handstand. Some of her pirouettes are some times late but she has beautiful lines and great potential on this event. 2011 world finalist Asuka Teramoto executes her jaeger, her inbar full into a gienger and her full in dismount with impressive form and precision.
They are even more impressive on balance beam where most of their athletes have qualified into the finals in a major competition. For example, Natsumi was a beam finalist at Universiade but she placed last after a rough routine while Sakura Yumoto was a finalist at the asian championships and Asuka Teramoto finished forth at last year’s worlds. Natsumi and Yuki have similar routines. They both show fantastic height during their layouts and great flexibility during their switch rings before they dismount with a double pike. Aiko is capable of a switch ring, a front aerial into a sheep jump and a questionable but very difficult triple full. The same dismount is also performed by Asuka Teramoto, whose routine also includes a lovely double turn and a beautiful onodi + back handspring + layout step out combination. Beam is the main reason why Sakura is part of this time and if everything goes well she could really shine on this event. Her routine includes an excellent round of + layout combination, a beautiful switch ring and an impressive front aerial + sheep connected with her jump series. Her dismount is a double pike and she has scored above 15 in the past. Sae is not particularly strong on this event and she will most likely not perform on it during qualifications. I actually think she’s promising and she has some difficult acrobatics like a round of + layout, a front tuck and a double pike dismount but she doesn’t have many combinations or hard dance elements and that prevents her from having a high start value.
Floor is probably Japan’s weakest event, but they are still capable of producing world class routines and earning solid scores. Most of their start values are in the middle 5s so they should be able to score in the high 13s – low 14s range. Those are not massive numbers but they are more than enough to keep them in contention. Some of the most notable tumbling passes we’ll see from them is Natsumi’s tucked full in, Aiko’s and Asuka’s triple fulls and 2.5s into layouts, Sakura’s very clean double arabian and Yuki’s impressive whip + triple twist opening combination. All the athletes mentioned above show elegant, expressive routines and beautiful lines and artistry. I particularly love Yuki’s low to the floor choreography and Aiko’s gorgeous turns. The athlete who stands out on this event is obviously Sae Miyakawa. She doesn’t have the artistry or the style of her teammates but damn, this girl can tumble. Her full twisting double layout is so high that it could compare to Simone Biles’, her front layout + double front is so pretty it could be compared to Ivana Hong’s and she finishes her routine with a freaking silivas. The problem is that she is really inconsistent and she falls more often than she lands on her feet but if she does what she’s capable of she could have a 6.4 start value and even challenge for an individual medal on this event.
With strong line ups on ever event, Japan has an excellent chance to qualify into the team finals and therefore to the Rio Olympics. In addition to that, their athletes have realistic chances to make it into the individual finals. Asuka, Natsumi and Aiko will be fighting for the two All Around spots, Sae is a contender for the vault and floor finals and Asuka, Aiko, Yuki, Natsumi and especially Sakura all have a realistic chance to become beam finalists. Yuki could be considered a dark horse for the uneven bars finals but the competition on this event is very intense this year so it will be hard for her to make it over the Russia, the Chinese, the British and the American athletes.