first_imgAmerican Gymnast David Durante works out on the pommel horse during last Friday’s training session at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences in Kita Ward. Team USA had a joint weeklong training camp with the Japanese National Team last week. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS They stretch. They sweat. They smile. IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5 This is the scene on a Friday afternoon at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences in Kita Ward, where members of the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team and their Japanese counterparts are holding a weeklong joint training camp.This is the fourth time in five years the teams have done this.In 2003, Team USA visited the JISS. A year later, Team Japan visited the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and also went to the U.S. in 2006.By all accounts, these training camps have been positive, worthwhile endeavors for both countries.Just ask Dennis McIntyre, the men’s program director for USA Gymnastics.“It’s been a very productive experience for all the athletes and coaches,” said McIntyre, pausing to watch the athletes conduct their drills. “We wouldn’t keep doing it if it didn’t meet everybody’s goals.”Yoichi Tomita, right, a longtime assistant coach for USA Gymnastics and former Japanese high school individual champion, watches an American gymnast train last Friday at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences in Kita Ward.Joey Haggerty, a 24-year-old gymnast from Albuquerque, N.M., agreed.“It’s definitely more motivating just coming out here (to train),” he said. “These guys are awesome. It’s really inspiring for the opportunity to come out here and train with these guys.”Japan captured the team gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics, while the U.S. squad earned the silver.Osaka native Hiroyuki Tomita, who attended Juntendo University, won the all-around title at the 2005 World Championships.In short, Japan’s status as the world’s premier team is why the Americans want a firsthand look at what their talented rivals do to become the best.Cooperation and mutual respect provide a relaxed atmosphere for both teams during the training sessions.“It’s a very open dialogue that we have with the Japanese coaches and a very good relationship,” McIntyre said.If that weren’t the case, there might be whispers about one guy’s techniques or another’s new training strategy. And then, probably, no one would be smiling.“We are very competitive, but as soon as the competition starts it’s, ‘Hey, we are all friends and all cooperation,’ ” McIntyre said. “It’s very nice. I think it’s really what sports should be.”Yoichi Tomita has helped make this happen.Tomita, who was Japan’s 1973 high school gymnastics champion, later attended Long Beach State (Calif.) University.He was a standout collegiate gymnast, placing second in the all-around competition at the 1978 NCAA Championship.Tomita established his own school, Gymnastics World in Tucson, Ariz., in the early 1980s and served as an assistant U.S. coach at three Olympiads (1984, 1988 and 2000).Nowadays he also serves as the U.S. Men’s Program Committee chairman.He also realizes the value of teaming up his adopted country’s athletes with those from his native land for fun, focused training camps. Therefore, his USA Gymnastics colleagues supported his desire to set up these camps.“The main reason (to be here) is to learn from the best,” Coach Tomita said. “You have to realize that Japan is the reigning Olympic champion, and we are the second-place (team) from the Olympic Games. So we have so much to learn from each other.”He added: “Getting away from the monotony of training with the same people, but training with the same level of people from different countries is a great motivation.”This was evident on Friday.As a blend of contemporary tunes — an upbeat mix of R&B, hip-hop, dance and reggaeton — blared from the training room’s stereo speakers, the 10 American gymnasts hone their skills on the parallel bars, the pommel horse, the rings, the mats and elsewhere.Wherever they went, they performed their tasks with intense focus, but still had time to exchange a few words and bows with Japan’s athletes. And they watched Japan’s standouts just as intensely. Each day inside the JISS was as valuable as a one-on-one lecture from a world-renowned expert.“I really look forward to the camps that we have together because every time we do it, it gets better and better,” said David Durante, who hails from Garwood, N.J.“One of the things that we get out of these camps is to see a new way of trying to do certain skills, new techniques, new training methods. And the Japanese definitely do things a lot differently than we do in the United States.”Asked to give an example, Durante responded by saying: “They are more efficient with the way that they work out. They, I’ll say, take less turns but are more productive with their turns, where we take more turns. We spend a lot of time in the gym. They prefer not to do things in the morning, whereas we are used to training hard in the morning.”Their week of interaction was not just about work, though.The American and Japanese coaching staffs had dinner together on a daily basis.Both teams’ athletes stayed in the JISS dormitory-style rooms and enjoyed dining at a sushi restaurant together.“The best thing so far is their team took us out for sushi, and the bonding and trying to get through the communication barriers is real fun,” Haggerty said, smiling. “It’s been fun trying to learn their language and everything they do.”In addition, the U.S. squad enjoyed checking out all the latest gadgets in Akihabara’s electronic super stores and seeing one of Tokyo’s most historic sites, Senso-ji, the ancient Buddhist temple.Along the way, Tomita proved to be a superb tour guide.“Yoichi is a very upbeat guy all the time, but you can tell that he enjoys being here,” Durante said. “My family is also from another country (Italy), and when I see my father go back to his native country, I see the same thing that I see in Yoichi: that he feels more comfortable and there’s things that he misses about this country. And he’s so excited to show us what his native culture is about. It’s exciting for me to see the way he enjoys showing us.”Such as?“Oh, just like taking us sightseeing yesterday and making sure that we knew the right things to do at the temples: the way to pray, the way to wash your hands before you pray, to clap before you throw the coins,” Durante said.“He wants to make sure that we understand certain rituals that the Japanese culture has to offer.”Lesson learned.The Americans departed on Sunday.Now it’s time to prepare for the 2007 season. The U.S. squad returns to competition at the Winter Cup Challenge, starting on Feb. 8, in Las Vegas. center_img They spin and tumble, twist and turn, and bend their bodies, whipping them into shapes that often look like caricatures of pretzels. GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMESlast_img

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