The Mai Stans Stay Winning: 2021 Women’s NHK Cup Recap

With Olympic spots on the line and only a few tenths separating who would get an automatic birth to the games, the stakes at this meet were extremely high. In conjunction with the All Japan Championships earlier last month, the standings from the NHK Cup-All Japan Championships saga was used to decide who Japan would send to the Olympics with the top three all-around getting an automatic spot on the team.

The meet got off to a fantastic start with Hiraiwa drilling a glorious NCAA-style Yurchenko 1.5 to give her a 14.3.

Hiraiwa wasn’t really on Japan’s Olympic team radar until last year. Ill-timed injuries have riddled most of her career, preventing her from being sent to major international competitions. But this year is different, she’s peaking in perfect time to vie for a spot on Japan’s Olympic team.

After a solid first rotation on vault, Murakami Mai struggled on bars, giving us a Svetlana Boginskaya 1996 compulsory reenactment.

However Mai was already so far ahead of the pack, she had enough of a lead to cushion her.

After a bringing back her Rudi and hitting a solid bars set, Asuka hit a clean beam set for a 13.633- the highest beam score of the day.

After rupturing her achilles last year, Teramoto’s Olympic hopes her in doubt. However after the Olympics were postponed for a year Teramoto is once again in contention for the team.

Sugihara Aiko also started the meet off nicely with her relatively new Yurchenko double-full. However she did struggle a little on bars, traditionally her weaker event.

She was able to rebound with a confident beam set showing off ambitious new connections and a nice double pike dismount.

Consistency queen Hatakeda Hitomi also had a fantastic beam routine after showing an upgraded bars set that allowed her to maintain her position in second place.

Murakami also showed a solid beam set, recovering from her bars mishap from the earlier rotation to score a 13.533.

On floor, Teramoto showed off clean tumbling but unfortunately landed short and fell on her final double pike- only scoring an 11.833

Coming into the final rotation with only a 0.02 deficit behind Sugihara, Teramoto needed to do everything in order to make her case for the Olympic team.

Sugihara followed up Teramoto with her charming new J-pop floor routine to solidify her fourth place ranking with a 53.698.

Coming into the final rotation, Hiraiwa needed a hit floor set to guarantee her guaranteed spot on the Olympic team.

With a solid tumbling, beautiful dance elements (the oversplits!), and a captivating performance, Hiraiwa scored a 13.466 to earn her guaranteed Olympic team spot.

Following Hiraiwa was Hatakeda who also only needed a hit set in order to guarantee her spot on the Olympic team. With a solid full-in, 2.5 to punch full, and double pike Hatakeda earned a 13.466 to sail into second place.

Finishing the competition on her strongest event was Murakami Mai. The 2017 floor World Champion easily topped the competition by getting the highest floor score of the day (14.2) to position herself as one of the favorites for an all around medal going into the Tokyo Olympics.

With Murakami, Hatakeda, and Hiraiwa guarenteed Olympic spots there was only one more position left to cap off the four person team.

After the seemingly eternal wait, the Japanese selection committee announced Aiko Sugihara would be the fourth person to represent Japan.

With Murakami Mai, Hatakeda Hitomi, Hiraiwa Yuna, and Sugihara Aiko rounding out the team, every person on this team understands what it’s like to overcome obstacles. Ill-timed injuries, poor competition results, or just bizarre team selection procedures, this Japanese team embodies perseverance and resilience. This summer they will compete in what is likely the biggest competition of their life, showcasing their gymnastics on the biggest stage in the world.

Full results can be found here

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