For Japanese gymnast Hikaru Mori, a performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games could have been another highlight of an up-and-down trampoline career that began on a supermarket rooftop garden 18 years ago.
The reigning world champion, however, crashed out in the women’s qualifying round on Friday after an uncharacteristic flop denied her a place in the final.
Mori said she had no regrets over her early exit, but also admitted to cracking under the pressure of being a gold medal favorite.
“I felt immense pressure to meet the expectations to win a medal and it was getting harder and harder to deal with,” Mori said.
The 22-year-old’s athletic roots go back to when she was 4 years old and introduced to the sport via a trampoline on a rooftop garden play area of a supermarket in Tokyo.
Her mother Mika happily paid ¥200 for seven minutes of bounce time for her daughter and twin sons to get active and release their pent-up energy.
She had no idea she was raising a future Olympian.
“I kept telling her to jump continuously because I wanted to wear her out,” the 51-year-old said, laughing.
Enchanted by the therapeutic floating sensation above the trampoline, Mori begged her mother for more time and eventually joined a trampoline club in her neighborhood along with her brothers.
The feeling of pure joy when she bounced carefree on a trampoline slowly faded as her recreational obsession evolved into one of intense competition.
She moved to her current training base of Ishikawa Prefecture in the middle of her freshman year of high school, when she switched to a powerhouse school in the gymnastics discipline in order to ensure she was placed in an ideal atmosphere for a student-athlete.
Her mother chose to move with her instead of having her daughter live in a dorm and spent the next 5½ years creating a cozy home away from home for Mori, helping her unwind after long, stressful days.
The move paid off when Mori booked a spot at the Tokyo Games by reaching the top of the podium at the 2019 world championship, becoming the first Japanese to capture a world crown in the discipline — either in the men’s or women’s competition — at age 20.
That accomplishment fueled expectations of gold at her home Games.
But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, leading to the Games’ postponement and forcing her to change her training schedule.
It also affected her mental health.
In a post-competition interview at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on Friday, Mori admitted that her confidence has taken a serious hit as a result of her mental health issues.
Mori confessed she came under mounting pressure to the point where she could not perform up to her standard and even went as far as confiding in her coach of her intention to quit.
Despite her failure, her longtime club coach Mayumi Kuramochi was supportive and empathetic, especially with mental health of athletes becoming the talk of the Tokyo Olympics.
“I just want to tell her she has already accomplished a lot just by qualifying for the Olympics,” Kuramochi said shortly after Mori’s Olympics ended.
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