Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Introducing Japan's World Championships Representatives

The World Championships are roughly 90 days away, and the gymternet is already shrieking with glee! Why? you ask.

Countries have begun to name their representatives for the 2013 World Championships!

Strike that.

1 country has named its representatives for the 2013 World Championships!

If that news doesn't make you want to run and do a double heel click, you should question your dedication to the sport of gymnastics.

Anyway, in case you haven't heard, the Japanese Gymnastics Federation has named its representatives for the 2013 World Championships. Let's get to know them, shall we? 

1. Kohei Uchimura: If you don't know who he is, you deserve to teach cheerleaders and strippers back handsprings every hour of every day for the rest of your life. (#BadGymCurses And yes, I know many coaches who have given private lessons to pole dancers. Call it an occupational hazard.) Even though it's a cliché to say this, Kohei is the king of gymnastics right now. This year, he has routinely scored in the 90-91-range in the all-around, while many of his opponents struggle to break 90 mark. Undoubtedly, the 2009 all-around champion, the 2010 all-around champion, the 2011 all-around champion, and the 2012 Olympic all-around champion will be everyone's pick to win the 2013 title. (You know that I'll pick someone else just to be a contrarian.)

Unlike someone like Max Whitlock, we haven't seen all that much of Kohei Uchimura in 2013. But I suppose when you're a legend like Kohei, you don't need to make many public appearances in order to maintain your image as the Superman of Men's Gymnastics. The gymternet is enough to preserve your reputation. In case you haven't noticed, every other month, a video surfaces of Kohei-the-Kovacs-Tease throwing release after release, and the internet explodes. Yet somehow, the combinations never seem to find their way into his routine, disappointing crazy gymnastics fans around the globe.

Really, we shouldn't be surprised, though. With execution like his, Kohei doesn't need an Epke-style routine. This year, he has posted one of the highest high bar scores without doing 4 releases in a row, and I'm sure that many will favor Kohei to win a high bar medal in Antwerp.

Okay, okay, okay, I think I've subjected you to enough Kohei Uchimura plaudits. But, please, let me mention one more thing: Kohei is also a floor champ (2011), and he could very well win a medal on floor, too! Weee!

Now that we're drunk on the Uchimura Juice, let's move on…

2. Ryohei Kato: Two Japanese gymnasts were on the all-around podium in 2011 in Tokyo. In case you ever need to know this factoid for Uncle Tim's Gymnastics Trivia (coming to a happy hour at a sports bar near you), those 2 gymnasts were Kohei Uchimura and Koji Yamamuro. Call me crazy, but I'm guessing that Japan would love to repeat that performance--if not better it. And with Ryohei Kato, the Japanese could very well do that.

So what do we know about Ryohei Kato? He's a sneaky one. Seriously, he kind of snuck up on gymnastics fans like your significant other's birthday sneaks up on you or like the first "r" in February sneaks up on you. I mean, sure, Ryohei Kato was part of the 2012 Olympic team, but he lived in the shadows of the team's headliners like Kohei Uchimura, Kazuhito Tanaka, and Koji Yamamuro.

2013, though, has been all about Ryohei Kato. He began the FIG circuit this year by placing first on parallel bars at the French International. (It was much to my dismay, as he defeated Oleg Verniaiev.) Then, at the Tokyo World Cup, he proved that he was a force to be reckoned with in the all-around. He finished second behind my man Oleg Verniaiev, and a few weeks later, he finished second at the Japanese Nationals, defeating exceptional gymnasts like Yusuke Tanaka, Shogo Nonomura, Koji Yamamuro, and Kazuhito Tanaka in the all-around.

It's unlikely that Ryohei Kato will be able to catch Kohei Uchimura in 2013, but it'll be fun to see if Kato can keep the momentum going in Antwerp.

3. Shirai Kenzo: The Japanese Gymnastics Association has chosen the 17-year-old for one reason and one reason only: he's the best twister in the world. With a 7.3 difficulty score on floor, Shirai Kenzo should have a few tenths head-start on his competitors. That said, whenever a gymnast performs a 7.0+ routine on floor, endurance and execution are always concern, and Kenzo is no exception. At the Japanese Nationals, he scored a 15.500 with an 8.200 in execution. It should be noted that by the end of June, he had improved his execution score by four tenths, scoring a 15.900 at the All-Japan Championships. Those four tenths could be the difference between making event finals on floor and not making event finals on floor.

4. Kazuhito Tanaka: Even though Kazuhito Tanaka finished sixth in the all-around at the London Olympics, he has not been selected as an all-arounder. Instead, he punched his ticket to Antwerp as an event specialist. Of course, the Japanese Gymnastics Association's website does not say which event, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd assume that he was selected as a parallel bar specialist. At the 2011 World Championships, he finished eighth on the event, and one year later, he finished fourth at the Olympics.

I'm sure that he would love to improve on his 2012 result. (Maybe second if we continue to divide by 2s?) Alas, 2013 has been a bit of a rough year for Tanaka. At the Tokyo Cup, he had a bad fall on his triple off rings during the all-around competition, and he was forced to withdraw. Nevertheless, he has rebounded from that incident, and at the NHK Cup, he posted a 15.600 on parallel bars, one of the highest scores in the world this year.

Of the four event specialists, it seems like Kazuhito Tanaka and Shirai Kenzo have the best shot of winning a medal. That said, we're 90 days out. So, maybe we should hold off on the predictions, yes?

5. Koji Yamamuro: Once upon a time, in a not-so-distant quad, Yamamuro was one of the world's best all-arounders. In case you haven't gym-nerded-out to the point of memorizing every World Championships podium ever, let me refresh your memory. In 2011, Yamamuro finished third in the all-around at the World Championships. Unfortunately, those glory days have past. At least for now. At the Japanese Nationals in May, he competed all-around on the first day of competition, but on the second day, he performed on only pommels and rings, posting a low 11.900 on the former and a high 15.300 on the latter.

I think it's safe to say that the Japanese Gymnastics Association has chosen Yamamuro for his prowess on rings. Historically, he has a pretty good track record on the event. Of course, he'd probably prefer that we forgot about London where he was 23rd on rings in qualifications. (Another potential question for my gymnastics trivia game!) But before that, he was quite exceptional. In 2010, he finished just out of the medals in fourth, but he rebounded in 2011 and claimed the bronze behind rings legends Chen Yibing and Arthur Zanetti.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with Yamamuro in Antwerp. At the present moment, ringers* around the world are striving to score at least a 15.6, and Yamamuro has yet to break that mark. Heck, he isn't necessarily Japan's best on rings. At the All-Japan Championships, for instance, he tied for fourth on rings with a 15.100. Prior to that, at the NHK Cup, he posted a 15.100 and a 15.200 on the event.

So, we shall see what happens with Mr. Yamamuro.

*If Make It or Break It can use the term beamer to describe Lauren, I can use the term ringers to describe the likes of Eleftherios Petrounias and Arthur Zanetti.

6. Kohei Kameyama: This choice intrigues me the most. Even a dedicated gymnastics fan might raise his or her eyebrows upon seeing Kohei Kameyama's name. I mean, yes, he has had World Cup success. At the 2010 World Cup in Montreal, he took home bronze on pommel horse, bronze on rings, and gold on high bar. But that was in 2010 (!!!) and despite his success at that meet, Japan never named him to a World or Olympic team.

Like Kenzo, Tanaka, and Yamamuro, Kameyama will travel to Antwerp as an event specialist. Most likely on pommel horse. At the Japanese Nationals, he posted a 15.350 while pommeling the horse. That, by the way, was the highest score on the event. A few weeks later at the NHK Cup, he posted an even higher 15.400.

His scores would be great if he could break the 15-mark consistently, but he has struggled to do so in 2013. While he was exceptional on one day of competition at both the Japanese Nationals and the NHK Cup, he was mediocre the other day (14.800 at Japanese Nationals and 14.900 at NHK Cup). And at the All-Japan Championships in June, he had the 7th highest score with a 14.200.

Slipping scores is not what you want to see from a World Championships representative. So,  we're left wondering whether Kameyama will be able to find more consistency… Dum. Dum. Dum!

Say it with me: 90 days to go!


  1. Interestingly, Japan Gymnastic Association didn't publish the selection criteria on its blog, but on its official facebook fan page instead!


    Scroll down until you see several posts published on 26th April through 5th May.

    I can only say that the criteria are fucking complicated as they've always been.

  2. I was kinda surprised that they selected Kameyama, I thought it would of been Koji Uematsu, he posted a 16.05 on HB for the event finals & 16 & 15.9 at the NHK Cup.

  3. Coming back to this article because I just have to comment, you were so insanely spot on with Ryohei haha. I'm a huge fan of Ryohei but when I read this a few months ago I was was still questioning his ability to help Japan to a double-podium finish, much less a one-two finish!! GOOD JOB RYOHEI.

    On the contrary, Kameyama turned out to be a brilliant choice while Tanaka....was unlucky.... hmmmm.