TOKYO (JPN), FIG Office, October 9, 2011: Their imagination captured by the impressive performances of their women’s team on Saturday, local gymnastics fans returned to Tokyo’s Metropolitan Gymnasium Makoto Okiguchi this morning to support the Japanese men’s team on the first day of men’s qualification at the 43rd Artistic Gymnastics World Championships.
And they were not disappointed! Team Japan, expected to battle it out for the World title with China in the Team Final scheduled for Wednesday, headed Team USA after the first session of the day, taking pole position with 364.291 points.
The Japanese started off in hugely impressive fashion, nailing one routine after another on the Parallel Bars and Horizontal Bar and taking top spot in each ranking. With Koji Yamamuro leading the way, they were totally rocking, especially on Rings where they boasted 15+ scores in five out of five routines. Makoto Okiguchi surged into the lead for those trying to qualify for the event Final.
They had a scary moment on the Floor, however, when Yusuke Tanaka, who had led the All-around standings until that moment and had the highest score on the Horizontal Bar, landed badly after a roll-out skill and was unable to continue his routine. The Japanese Gymnastic Association later stated that Tanaka’s injury was not serious and that he is expected back in training in a few days.
Visibly affected on both Vault and Floor by a recent ankle injury, double World Champion Kohei Uchimura still scored an incredible total of 92.256 to take an early All-around lead, recording the top score on Parallel Bars along the way.
Refusing to be overshadowed by their women’s team, the US men gave a strong overall performance today, only suffering from a few mistakes on the Horizontal Bar. John Orozco surprised with his 90.532 All-around score, finishing second behind Uchimura and outscoring US champion Danell Leyva, who is in third. Steven Legendre might qualify for both Floor and Pommel Horse Finals, while Jonathan Horton can harbour similar hopes on Rings and Leyva on Parallel Bars.
Performing in the last sub-division of the day, the German squad had a rough start on the Pommel Horse, generally their weakest event, having to absorb falls from Philipp Boy and Fabian Hambüchen. But after this double shock, which gave them an intermediate position of 11th, they fought back and moved up to third with consistent performances.
However, the last rotation on the Floor spelled trouble once more, with Thomas Taranu, Boy and Hambüchen all stepping out of bounds. Boy, the 2010 All-around runner-up, is currently in fifth position overall but qualification for the event Finals is unlikely as he is fifth on the Horizontal Bar and sixth on the Parallel Bars at the midway point.
Hambüchen, the former World Champion and Olympic Bronze medalist who recently recovered from a torn Achilles tendon, nailed his routine on his specialty Horizontal Bar, putting him currently in third place. Marcel Nguyen is eighth overall which is likely to be good enough to qualify for the All-around Final.
Veteran Marian Dragulescu, who top-scored on the Floor today and was second on the Vault, helped Team Romania into fourth place. Ukraine is currently fifth, led by all-rounder Mykola Kuksenko and newcomer Oleg Stepko. And Brazil were celebrating a terrific 346.626 team score and Arthur Nabarrete Zanetti’s fabulous 15.533 on Rings that brought him the event lead. Krisztian Berki of Hungary, the reigning World Champion, leads Pommel Horse with 15.866 points.
The qualification round continues tomorrow with sub-divisions five to eight and gymnastics powerhouses China, Russia, Great Britain, France and Canada entering the competition.
A total of 288 male gymnasts from 78 different countries are competing in eight sub-divisions over two days, aiming to qualify for the Individual All-around Final (24 places) and the Apparatus Finals (8 places each). At the same time, the competition determines which eight teams qualify direct for the 2012 Olympic Games and also for the Team Finals on Wednesday. Countries ranked 9-16 will get the chance to qualify for one of four more Olympic spots at the test event in January.
Following the 6-5-4 system, each country can line up six gymnasts per apparatus in qualification, out of whom five will actually compete; the best four scores make up the team’s total.