Last night I was finishing up a preview of the All-Around final which predominantly featured Hitomi Hatakeda as she was one of the top qualifiers. But before I could publish it, I learned this morning that she had suffered a “central spinal cord injury and cervical spine bruise” which has knocked her out of the competition. The good news is that it doesn’t appear Hitomi suffered a critical spinal injury that will impact her ability to walk, or even result in the end of her career. But nevertheless, any time a gymnast is removed from a competition on a stretcher and taken to the hospital via an ambulance, it is a gut-wrenching moment.
With that in mind, I wanted to publish the All-Around preview I did of her to give gymnastics fans an insight of who she is, where she’s at in her career, and what Hitomi Hatakeda was looking to accomplish at the 2021 World Championships:
The 2021 World Championships was going to be Hitomi Hatakeda’s big break. All eyes are on Japan at this competition because they are the host nation and have the additional benefit of homefield advantage. Currently, Mai Murakami is the headliner and the “big star” of the Japanese women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) program. It is Mai who captures nearly all of the attention the Japanese women’s program receives while her teammates are typically relegated to the shadows.
But Mai did not compete All-Around (AA) at the 2021 World Championships meaning that for the first time in years, someone else in the Japanese program is going get to experience what it is like to take center stage. At least for one part of a single competition. And what better way to experience it than in front of home crowds? That is what Hitomi Hatakeda’s role was going to be at the 2021 All-Around Finals.
By qualifying in the #4 spot, Hitomi Hatakeda has a very strong chance to actually win an AA medal for the fourth time in Japanese WAG history. For most programs, already having three AA medals would be seen as a significant accomplishment. But for Japan, it is something ofa rare occasion as those medals came in 1966 (Keiko Ikeda), 2009 (Koko Tsurumi), and 2018 (Murakami).
Japan’s WAG’s history and status as a medal winning program goes back further than China, predates Nadia Comaneci, and even Cathy Rigby, the first American to ever win an individual medal. Thanks to Japan’s status as one of the most, if not the most historic gymnastics program on the men’s side of the sport, Japan has as much gymnastics infrastructure as any country in the world. Japan has produced some of the most iconic leotards in WAG history while its famed Chunichi Cup was attended by ever AA Champion in WAG of the 1970s and 1980s. The Chunichi Cup would even be the model for which the creation of the American Cup was based on.
Yet despite all of that, Japan’s WAG history has been plagued by decades of obscurity. Its inability to contend for medals from the 1970s-2000s is one of the biggest headscratchers in WAG history and under Murakami, Japan appeared to be establishing itself as a WAG program that could maintain a foothold in the sport. What Hitomi Hatakeda was looking to accomplish in 2021 was not just win a medal for herself, but turn Japan into a WAG program that could achieve repeat success and in rapid fashion. The 2021 World Championships was going to mark Mai Murakami taking her curtain call, while also providing Hitomi Hatakeda with an opportunity to announce her arrival as a gymnast the entire sport should be talking about.
But there was also a family legacy at stake here as well that Hitomi was looking to continue. Her father Yoshiaki Hatakeda is a former Olympic gymnast.
This would have made the Hatakeda family one of the rare examples of a father/daughter combination in WAG history where both athletes in question have medals. It was only a couple of months ago at the 2021 Olympics where such an occasion was observed when South Korea’s Yeo Seo Jeong won a medal on vault.
Following in her father’s footsteps who won a silver medal on vault at the 1996 Olympics. It would have added a weird sense of irony that after having so few examples for the entirety of WAG history, we get two such instances in the same year.
Hitomi Hatakeda is a very compelling gymnast and I just wanted to give readers some insights on how historic her 4th place finish was in 2021 qualifications, and how close she was to making history for herself, her family, and her country before one ill-timed skill brought her 2021 run to a halt.