The FIG Friendship and Solidarity competition was as much a test as it was a chance for the gymnastics community to come together as one, and by all accounts, it passed with flying colors.
As the first international sporting event to be held in Japan amid the coronavirus pandemic, the meet was a stepping stone toward showing the world that sports can and will persevere, even during the darkest of times; that the Olympics are a beacon of hope people want and need next summer, which Kohei Uchimura touched on in his post-meet speech in Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo on Sunday.
“Because of the pandemic, most of us couldn’t train or compete. It was nice not just to see each other again but to be able to share all the emotions,” Uchimura said in an outpouring. “I know it’s somewhat unavoidable with the virus, but I read an article that said 80 percent of the people in Japan don’t think the Olympics can be held, which I thought was disappointing. But the question we should be asking ourselves is not whether we can hold the games or not – but how, and all of us need to put our heads together to make sure that it does go ahead. I want people to start thinking differently. I say this, however, knowing full well that it will not be easy. If we athletes and the public aren’t on the same page, I don’t think it will happen. But I’m certain there is a way to make it happen, and I ask everyone to stop thinking that it can’t happen.”Kohei Uchimura (JPN)
Uchimura’s words of encouragement about the games come just a week after he was the subject of a false positive COVID-19 test that almost cost him the chance to participate in the unique event, where athletes from Japan, China, Russia, and the United States competed on two mixed teams of 15: Team Friendship (Blue Team) and Team Solidarity (Red Team).
Ultimately, Uchimura and Team Solidarity prevailed after overcoming Team Friendship at the halfway point and never looking back. Team Solidarity finished with a whopping 423.600 points to Team Friendship’s 421.300–a 2.3 point margin of difference.
While the execution of the meet itself went off without a hitch, the gymnastics execution was nowhere near the level expected in Tokyo next summer, but with many of the athletes having been unexpectedly in and out of training all year, it’s not shocking that every routine wasn’t showstopping perfection.
Indeed, in his first international competition in two years, Uchimura put up the biggest score of the night, male or female, with an incredible 15.200 on high bar. An upgraded opening release skill–the Bretschneider–contributed to the big score.
Other top routines from the night include Russian’s Dmitriy Lankin and Angelina Melnikova on floor, Kazuma Kaya (JPN) and Yul Moldauer (USA) on pommel horse, Zhang Boheng (CHN) on rings, Shilese Jones (USA) and Nikita Nagornyy (RUS) on vault, Wataru Tanigawa (JPN) on parallel bars, Hitomi Hatakeda (JPN) on bars, and Zhang Jin (CHN) on beam.
An audience of approximately 2,100 was in the stands for the occasion. All were socially distanced within the gymnasium, which hosted events during Tokyo’s last Olympic Games in 1964. In addition, spectators were required to wear masks, have temperature checks, and clean their hands frequently.
Safety was priority No. 1 throughout the week leading up to the event, with each participating athlete being tested every morning and delegations being restricted to the hotel and competition venue. Restrictions even went so far as to assign each country to their own floor at the athlete hotel.
“With this competition, you’re also setting an example that sport can be organized safely even under the ongoing health restrictions,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.
2020 FIG Friendship and Solidarity competition results