Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Japan’s 2012 Olympic Flips, Dips and Kicks

Japan's "samurai gymnast"Uchimura in flight. Via.

Gymnastics played an important role in the evolution of postwar Japan, notes a recent New York Times magazine article profiling Kohei “Superman” Uchimura. Between 1960 and 1978, Japan’s men’s team won five consecutive gold medals in the Olympics and five consecutive world championships at a time when it was “a really important way for japan to establish itself in the world as a country that stood for global peace,” according to article author Lisa Katayama in an accompanying video. Somehow the state of Japanese gymnastics withered and is only now starting to re-assert itself on the national stage, with wunderkind Uchimura at the helm.

Many experts believe Uchimura may be the best gymnast that has ever lived, with NBC commentator Tim Daggett telling The Times, “A lot of gymnasts are colorful, aggressive, dynamic—but they don’t have the look that he has… His legs are always pencil straight, his toes are always perfectly pointed when he’s doing these crazy, crazy things.”

But Uchimura’s performance during the London 2012 qualifications round got off to a shaky start when he seemed to fall from the pommel horse during a dismount to fourth place. An appeal by his coaches was accepted and bumped him up to the silver, pushing Great Britain to the bronze.

Uchimura eventually proved his reputation in the men’s all-around competition and won the gold with a 92.690 score. In addition, he won a silver medal in the floor routine, and Japan won a collective silver medal in the Men’s Team category.

In Judo, the only Olympic event that originated in Japan, the men won two silver and two bronze while the women won one of each medal. Gold went to Kaori Matsumoto in the -57 kg weight class after Romanian challenger Corina Caprioriu was disqualified for attacking through the back of the legs. The comparatively low overall performance from previous years prompted some Japanese journalists to proclaim “Japanese Judo is dead.”

Of the games to date, Japan has won the most medals in swimming, which does not figure as prominently in Japan’s international esteem as judo or gymnastics. The men have won silver  in the 200m backstroke, the 4x100m medley relay, and bronze  in the 200m butterfly, 200m breaststroke, 100m backstroke, and the 400m individual medley. The women have won a silver in the 200m backstroke and four bronze medals in the 200m butterfly, 100m breaststroke, 100m backstroke, and the 4x100m medley relay.

Rounding out Japan’s achievements thus far are medals in archery (men’s individual silver, women’s team bronze), hammer throw (men’s bronze), badminton (women’s doubles silver), fencing (men’s team foil silver), weightlifting (women’s 48kg silver), wrestling (men’s 60kg Greco-Roman bronze) and table tennis (women’s silver).

But all eyes are on the women’s soccer team, the Nadeshiko, looking to repeat their success at the Women’s World Cup last year. At the time of this writing, they are preparing to face the United States in the final, having defeated France 2-1 in the semi-finals.

Unfortunately, the men’s team lost to Mexico 3-1 on Wednesday, ending dreams of a “Double Japan” soccer final.

--Lyle Sylvander

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