Teen Hazuki Watanabe grabs historic world gold on balance beam

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Balance beam champion Hazuki Watanabe, center, and bronze medalist Shoko Miyata, right, pose during the medal ceremony on Sunday in Liverpool.

LIVERPOOL — Teenager Hazuki Watanabe, originally chosen as an alternate, capped a Cinderella story by winning a gold medal at the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships and becoming Japan’s youngest-ever female world champion in the sport.

A late injury opened a place of the Japanese squad for Watanabe, and she responded by overcoming jitters and winning the women’s balance beam gold with 13.600 points on Sunday, the final day of the nine-day championships in Liverpool.

“It’s the most nervous I’ve ever been,” Watanabe said. “My legs were shaking during the routine. But even with that tension, having no big mistakes and plowing through to the end give me a little boost of confidence.”

At 18 years 2 months, Watanabe became the youngest Japanese to win a women’s event at the world championships, and kept the balance beam crown in Japanese hands by following up Urara Ashikawa’s triumph last year in Kitakyushu.

Japan also put two competitors on the medal podium in the event for the second year in a row, as high schooler Shoko Miyata captured the bronze medal Sunday with 13.533 points to match the finish of Mai Murakami in 2021.

Meanwhile, men’s all-around champion Daiki Hashimoto picked up a pair of individual event silver medals when he placed second in both the horizontal bar and floor exercise. Ryosuke Doi won the bronze in the floor.

Both were also members of the Japan squad that won the silver in the team competition.