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The Japanese men’s team claimed the first Olympic gymnastics team gold medal for their country in 28 years as they came from behind for victory in the sixth and final apparatus at the Athens Games on Monday, reviving memories of the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s.

News photoJapan’s Ayumi Tanimoto celebrates after clinching gold in the women’s judo 63-kg
category in Athens on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ayumi Tanimoto grabbed Japan’s fourth judo gold with an ippon win over Austria’s Claudia Heill in the women’s 63-kg class on Tuesday.

“I’m really happy. I never thought that I would lose today,” said Tanimoto, who pinned Heill for ippon 1 minute, 19 seconds into the final.

Tanimoto shredded the competition with ippon victories en route to her meeting with Heill in a brilliant display of workmanship judo, but Japan’s men bowed out of the gold medal competition for the second straight day at Ano Liossia Olympic Hall.

In the gymnastics, Japan, which qualified for the team final with the highest score Saturday, performed solidly with no major mistakes on all the apparatuses at the Olympic Indoor Hall for a total score of 173.821 points, a whopping 0.888 of a point ahead of the United States.

Romania, which led for most of the competition until the fifth apparatus, fell apart at the end when it fared badly on the horizontal bar just ahead of Japan and had to settle for third place with 172.384 points. Defending champion China finished fifth behind South Korea.

Up last on the bar, Isao Yoneda and Takehiro Kashima, the reigning world champion on the apparatus, gave strong performances and scored 9.787 and 9.825 to pave the way for Japan’s first gold medal in the sport in 20 years, leaving Hiroyuki Tomita to make or break their chance of the first team gold since the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Tomita, last year’s world all-around bronze medal winner who needed at least 8.963 points to overtake the U.S. team, pulled off a near-perfect routine to thunderous applause and cheers from the stands and earned 9.850 points, the highest score on the horizontal bar Monday.

“In all the events, we were able to perform united as a team and that led to the gold medal,” Tomita said. “This is the most wonderful day.”

The Japanese men’s team won five straight gold medals from 1960 to 1976, but went downhill after boycotting the Moscow Games in 1980, taking three consecutive bronze medals from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, in the absence of its archrival the Soviet Union, to the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

After that, the country failed to win any medals both in the team competition and the individual events in the past two Olympics.

Putting together a young team of five Olympic newcomers and veteran Naoya Tsukahara, Japan was hoping to end a 12-year Games medal drought in gymnastics and launch a return to the top of the sport.

Tsukahara, the 1999 world all-around silver medalist appearing in his third Olympics and the son of Japanese gymnastics legend Mitsuo Tsukahara, overcame a major slump to play a leading role among his less-experienced teammates in the bid for the gold medal.

On Monday, he led off the six-man squad’s campaign with a modest but stable routine on the floor exercises, which are not one of Japan’s specialty events, to set the pace and also took part in three other events.

In the vault, another area which has been considered a weak spot for Japan, Kashima and Yoneda lost their balance slightly on their landing but Tomita wrapped up the team’s effort in the fourth rotation with a perfect landing.

Hisashi Mizutori and Daisuke Nakano competed on the rings and the floor exercises, respectively.

Based on a new rule introduced in Athens, three gymnasts from each team compete in each of the apparatuses — floor exercises, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar — and all of their scores count toward the total.

Sugiyama through

ATHENS (Kyodo) Japanese ace Ai Sugiyama stayed on course for a first Olympic medal with a straight-sets win over Tetyana Perebiynis in the second round of the women’s singles on Tuesday. World No. 13 Sugiyama, the eighth-seed here, produced a gritty display to see off her Ukrainian opponent 7-5, 6-4 but compatriot Akiko Morigami was eliminated after a disappointing loss to world No. 10 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia.

Japan’s hopes of a singles medal now rest solely with Sugiyama, after Morigami became the latest player from the country to crash out.

Morigami, ranked 68th in the world, started strongly and led the first set 5-3 only to go down 7-6 (7-5) before Kuznetsova went on to easily take the second set 6-2 and claim victory and a place in the third round.

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