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Japan's gymnasts show off strength with golden performance at Rio

Japanese gymnasts, from left, Koji Yamamuro, Yusuke Tanaka, Kohei Uchimura, Kenzo Shirai, and Ryohei Kato celebrate after winning the gold medal in the gymnastics men's all-round team event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 8, 2016. (Mainichi)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Japan claimed victory in the men's team all-around gymnastics on Aug. 8, winning its first gold medal in the team event since the 2004 Games in Athens.

Japan's gymnasts went into the final with solemn expressions. It was only after they got through the pommel horse and the rings, which are the Japan team's weak points, that smiles started to appear on their faces.

In the third event, the vault, Kohei Uchimura executed a difficult Li Xiaopeng move undertaken by vault specialists, and clapped his hands in joy when he landed successfully. Kenzo Shirai followed with a jump named after himself, and a smile flashed across his face when he made a perfect landing. It was a show of power of the gymnasts who helped Japan win the team all-around event at the world championships last year.

The Olympic all-around event is judged on 18 performances in six events. As all three scores of each team's competitors in each of the events go toward the overall score, mistakes are impermissible. The first event was the pommel horse, which is not one of Japan's specialties, and a cloud hung over the team when Koji Yamamuro failed to grasp one of the handles during his routine and fell to the ground. While he did not receive a major penalty, the error brought back images of Japan's performance in the qualifying round, when it suffered a string of misses.

As it happened, however, this was the only major error for the team. As coach Hisashi Mizutori commented, "When the team members pull off their own performances, they can win. Each of the athletes played a role."

Yusuke Tanaka, who lost his balance on the parallel bars during the qualifying stage, pulled through on Aug. 8 with a spectacular performance in that event that earned him an Execution Score of over 9. Building on this success, Tanaka and his teammates also excelled on the horizontal bars and the floor.

"Tanaka's performances were a turning point," Mizutori said.

Japan was trailing by 2 points after the end of the first three events, but by the end it had regained top position, 2.641 points ahead of second-placed Russia.

At the world championships in Nanning, China, in 2014, Japan lost by a frustratingly slim 0.1 point margin, and while it won the championships in Glasgow in Scotland last year, it saw a series of errors toward the end. On Aug. 8, however, not only were Japan's performances graceful, the team members showed off their strength and hardiness.

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