Murakami Mai claims fourth national all-around title at All-Japan Champs

Murakami ends 2020 on a high, finishing top in three apparatus, with defending champion Teramoto Asuka down in 13th.

By Shintaro Kano

Murakami Mai won her fourth women's national all-around title at the All-Japan Gymnastics Championships on Saturday (12 December).

Murakami's 112.097 points across the four apparatus over two days (including qualification on Thursday) gave her a comfortable victory over Hatakeda Hitomi (108.663) with former American junior Soma Ui (107.497) completing the podium.

Defending champion, Teramoto Asuka, finished 13th with 104.364 as she continues her recovery from a torn left achilles in February.

Murakami, 24, was in tears despite establishing a lead on Thursday but was far happier with her performances this time round inside the Takasaki Arena in Gunma Prefecture.

After regaining her all-around crown, she said, "I messed up in the prelims but today I got the Chusovitina done on the vault and also did well on the uneven bars, which is something I've been working on.

"There were a few things I managed to achieve here and I'm going to give myself a pat on the back given how long it's been since I last properly competed."

Murakami Mai celebrates her all-around victory at the All-Japan Championships in Gunma Prefecture

Jumping out of the gate

In Thursday qualification, Murakami made mistakes on the vault and landed on her back during the floor.

But she made a stellar start on the vault on Saturday, nailing the Chusovitina - a forward handspring onto the table followed by a straight salto forward with one and a half twists off more commonly known as a Rudi - for a 15.200 which put her in some elite company.

Based on the 2019 world rankings, only Simone Biles (15.650) and Jade Carey (15.300) have scored higher.

Murakami said being calmer today definitely helped.

"In the qualifying I was nervous and botched the landing. But after that experience, I wasn't nervous today and could reproduce what I've been doing in practice.

"I was probably thinking too much about the vault the other day and it affected me in the other events. But today the vault was up first and it got easier from there.

"I was hoping for a 15 and it was a 15.200. This is what I need to stand a chance against the best in the world and I think I'm on the right track."

Murakami also ended up with top marks on the uneven bars (14.133) and the floor (13.866).

Ashikawa Urara finished first on balance beam with a 14.100 ahead of Murakami's 13.833.

Looking forward to Olympic year, Murakami said winning a championship against the backdrop of COVID-19 boosts her confidence in chasing her dream of a medal at Tokyo 2020.

"Usually this competition would take place in March, April. It's been a long year but I've been working to stay ready, to compete at any time", she said.

"It gives me confidence knowing that I can perform even under unpredictable circumstances like the one we're in right now.

"I have to make the team first in order to achieve my goal of winning a medal. I have to make sure I do that as I think about next year." - Murakami Mai

Balancing act for tearful Teramoto

In stark contrast to Murakami, Teramoto, who was 18th in the preliminaries, started the day by falling off the balance beam which visibly rattled her.

She nearly broke down and had to be consoled by her coach before returning to action.

The two-time Olympian admitted that she still has to correct her asymmetry after having her Achilles repaired, but remains determined to be ready for the Games in July.

As tears rolled down her face, she said, "It's just not the same feel. I wake up in the morning to train and it's not the same. The balance between my upper body and lower body isn't there and I think it's because of all the time I missed.

"The fall on the balance beam is due to a lack of confidence. It had nothing to do with my Achilles.

"I now know where I stand. This is the reality. I'll definitely be back and I'm going to work harder than ever, in a way different to this year."

The men's final takes place on Sunday.