Japan won a total of 41 medals (12 gold, 8 silver, and 21 bronze) at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, but what thoughts crossed the minds of Japanese athletes as they appeared on the biggest stage of them all? In this series, we look back at the incredible events from Brazil that are still fresh in the collective memory of the next host country.
1st place: Japan 274.094 points
2nd place: Russia 271.453 points
3rd place: China 271.122 points
It’s a totally different experience when you win a gold medal with your friends. I’m overjoyed!
This is what UCHIMURA Kohei, who took part in all six events, said as he exploded with joy.
Uchimura won the individual all-around gold medal at the Olympic Games London 2012, but he was also disappointed after finishing in second place for the second consecutive tournament in the men’s team competition. At the Rio 2016 Games, he continued to profess his goal by emphasising his desire to "win the gold as a team," but this time he finally achieved his long-cherished dream.
As it turned out, the results showcased Japan’s strength, but dark clouds loomed over them up until the start of the finals.
Japan advanced through the preliminary round with an unexpected fourth place finish. The Japanese team’s initial strategy was to progress from the preliminaries in first place and start the finals with their speciality floor exercise, but their plan was derailed from early on.
In the finals, they failed to increase their score in the pommel horse and rings, their weakest events, and they got off to a slightly late start to be in fifth place after the second event. However, luckily for Japan, their main rivals China also made mistakes in the floor exercise and pommel horse and fell to sixth place. From there, Japan gained momentum from the vault - the third event.
After Uchimura and SHIRAI Kenzo pulled off bold moves to record high scores, TANAKA Yusuke achieved a score of 15.900 on the parallel bars, the fourth event, which put him in second place among all gymnasts to determine the flow. "I put the team in a bad situation," commented Tanaka, who made a crucial mistake in the pommel horse during the preliminaries, but he saved Japan with his outstanding performance on the parallel bars, which he himself rated as a "perfect performance."
The team displayed sound performances in the horizontal bar, and went into the floor exercise, the final event, in first place. Shirai scored over 16.00 points - the only gymnast to achieve that score - followed by KATO Ryohei, who delivered a stellar performance and passed the baton to Uchimura, Japan’s ace, who was entrusted with the final performance to clinch the gold medal. Uchimura lived up to expectations with an exceptional score of 15.600.
Uchimura, Kato, Tanaka and YAMAMURO Koji were all members of the Japanese team that took the silver medal at the London 2012 Games, and they were all determined to go one step further at the Rio Games. As it turned out, they were able to sweep away the disappointing memories of the London Games in glorious fashion. Kato took part in the fifth event following Uchimura, and displayed all-round strength with a flawless performance. Shirai and Tanaka recorded high scores in their specialist events, giving the team momentum. Yamamuro took part in the pommel horse and rings events, which were considered the weak points of the Japanese team, and rallied the team with a strong performance. Uchimura, who was in the same class as Yamamuro at school, was quoted as saying: "he’s a team-mate that we can really rely on."
This was Japan’s first team gold medal in three tournaments since the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Shirai, who was the team’s youngest member at 19 years old, commented, "the mounting tension made it the worst day of my life for my heart, but it also made the sense of achievement even greater, and it turned out to be undoubtedly the best day of my life." Kato added, "I went through so many different emotions, but in the end I’m just super happy!"
On 8 August 2016, a new chapter was written in the history of Japanese gymnastics. That day will forever be etched in the memories of so many people as the moment five different personalities and talents merged together to form a legendary team.