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Is Japan becoming a medal-contending team?

I’ve seen a couple of posts on some other gymnastics sites about this kid already (including Rick McCharles at GymnasticsCoaching.com), but I HAD to put my two cents in here because this is one of the most amazing gymnasts I’ve ever seen.

Mai Murakami is apparently a 13-year-old gymnast from Japan who has been throwing the BEST floor routine in the world this year (and I can say that very confidently…I think you’ll agree very shortly).  She also has some incredibly difficult skills on beam (watch below!), and a good Yurchenko double full, even with such a tiny stature.  I haven’t seen any bar routines posted, and it sounds like that may be her weak event right now, which is pretty common for a budding star her age.

I don’t yet know when her birthday is, so it’s hard to say if she’ll become age eligible in 2011 or 2012.  Boy it sure would be nice to see her at worlds next year, as she already appears to be the best in the world on one event.

Mai Murakami Floor 2009 Japanese Nationals

ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL!!!  In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.  Not only is it a complete shock to see a female gymnast like this coming out of Japan, but the overall artistry, presentation, and mastery of the most difficult tumbling in the world is almost inhuman.

How cool was the little forward roll she did into her opening pose?  Never seen that before!  And that is very powerful music for such a small and young gymnast, but she made it work perfectly with her tumbling and overall confidence.   And a double-double for the second pass? That’s the first time that’s ever been done as the second pass by a female to my knowledge.  Her third pass was incredibly cool too – front full to rudi to back handspring step out – very clever way to avoid sticking!  I love seeing a great triple full dismount too, as that is becoming more rare nowadays.  I’d have to say this is my new favorite female gymnast, not to mention favorite floor worker.

Here’s some different tumbling, including another difficult and rarely seen pass:

Mai Murakami Floor 2009

A 3.5 twist!!!  What an unbelievable repertoire.  Perhaps she’ll eventually end up dismounting with a double layout?

Let’s take a look at her beam skills, which are spectacular:

Mai Murakami Beam 2009 Japanese Nationals

Are you kidding?  Who cares about the wobbles!  She’s doing some of the hardest skills in the world – one of the few to do a layout full, and an incredible attempted triple turn to a standing layout.  Who else would even think of such a combination?

Mai Murakami Vault 2009 Japanese Nationals

Notice as she walked back past the vaulting table that it is taller than she is!  How she manages such a nice double full at her height is beyond me.

Natsumi Sasada Floor 2009 Japanese Nationals

Another Japanese girl doing a double-double!!??  Surely it can’t be!  This girl is 14 years old, and in fact is the same girl who performed an incredible beam mount earlier this year, which you can watch below.  I don’t think this girl’s music and choreography fit her well at all – in fact the dance was completely separate from the music – but incredible tumbling.

Natsumi Sasada Beam 2009 AYOF

Natsumi Sasada Bars 2009 AYOF

One of the few in the world to ever do a layout full for a mount, and she did it perfectly.  The rest of the routine is also very clean and has lots of potential.  Her bars isn’t quite up there with beam and floor yet, but you can see she has a lot of great skills to develop and has a very clean look and line.

WOW.  If you throw Koko Tsurumi (new world all-around bronze medalist and bars silver medalist) in there with these two, plus a couple others they’ve undoubtedly been grooming, and Japan is suddenly going to find themselves in contention for several world medals.

Has Japan been slowly developing one of the top teams in the world without us even realizing it?  I believe so.  London could be very interesting, as the USA, China, Russia, and Romania may have a brand new team force to deal with.