Sooners Abroad Blog: Team USA in Japan
Oklahoma head coach Mark Williams, athletic trainer Jenna Allocco and alumni Allan Bower, Yul Moldauer, Genki Suzuki and Colin Van Wicklen are in Funabashi, Japan, this week with Team USA participating in the U.S. Senior National Team's annual joint training camp with Japan ahead of next summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo. Hear from the OU contingent as they travel, train with the country's top gymnasts and explore Japan over the course of the next week.
DAY FIVE: Yul Moldauer
On Friday we had a morning practice at 9 a.m. After morning workout we had some spare time to go and get some good sushi in between practices. We had practice again at 2:30 in the afternoon where we got to work out in front of 300+ people. This was the last hard training day of the camp and everyone got to work on new skills and parts because the guys did a 1-on-6 on Sunday so it was nice to be able to be in the gym and train on your own assignments.
"This last day really hit us all, realizing the next time we will be back will be for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo."
- Yul Moldauer
After practice, we hopped on a train to downtown Tokyo where we got to explore the city and buy some gifts and souvenirs. It was an eventful day in the gym and in Tokyo. Sad it was our last full day here in Japan because of how welcoming the people are, and how great the food was. This last day really hit us all, realizing the next time we will be back will be for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
- Yul Moldauer, 2019 OU Graduate and Current U.S. Senior Men's National Team Member
DAY FOUR: Genki Suzuki
Suzuki with his grandparents at the gym in Funabashi.
It has been a very long and difficult process to obtain my citizenship. However, ever since I was little, I wanted to make the U.S. Senior National Team. As recruiting season came around, I knew I had to choose the best program to accomplish that goal. When I started my college career at OU, my plan was to work hard, obtain my citizenship, then make Team USA.
During my first two years of college, the guys on the national team would tell me about their experience at Japan training camp. From then on, I wanted to experience that.
Then at Winter Cup, I made the traveling team for Japan camp and I was very excited.
From day one, the people and the city of Funabashi gave us a warm welcome. They made us feel like superstars. I have not been back to Japan in over a decade, and the way the people treated us made me very excited to be back.
"I have enjoyed every minute of this trip. It has been over a decade since I have been back and sharing the experience with the national team guys has been special."
- Genki Suzuki
On Thursday morning, we all had breakfast around 7 a.m. then made coffee in our rooms and relaxed until morning practice. We did three routines, then right after, Yul and I visited Ichiba Elementary School to spend time with the kids during lunch. First, we met the principal and vice principal of the school. Then, we were escorted to our class by the class representative. At the elementary school, they start teaching English in the first grade. The principal told me that even though I knew Japanese, the kids have been practicing their English so he wanted me to speak to them in English. When I got to the class, the kids were full of excitement. There was a picture of me on the chalk board, with a message, “Good afternoon, thank you for coming to our class today”.
Everyone's lunch was served and when I sat down, the kids introduced themselves and gave me some information about Chiba and Funabashi. While we were eating they asked me a lot of questions about myself, America and gymnastics. The kids were excited, and it was great seeing them. When it was time to leave all the kids seemed disappointed. When we got into our car, the kids ran up to the window to say bye.
Then we had our second practice and did three more events. In the afternoon, the elementary kids we visited were invited to watch. They were amazed at everything we did. For dinner we had ramen, and it was some of the best ramen that I have ever had. We all could tell the difference in presentation, richness of the broth, and the quality of the noodles compared to ramen in America.
I have enjoyed every minute of this trip. It has been over a decade since I have been back and sharing the experience with the national team guys has been special. Being able to share my culture with the guys has brought me closer to them. Ichifuna High School has one of the best training facilities in Japan, and it has been very exciting to train there. During every practice, there would always be a group watching us practice and cheering us on. Also, watching the high school team practice has been a learning experience. They just won their regional championship and left for the national championship today (Thursday). During practice, the high school kids would cheer us on and we would return the favor.
Practicing with them brought back memories of training in Okinawa when I was a little kid. It's been an amazing past four days in Funabashi and I look forward to the rest of it.
- Genki Suzuki, 2019 OU Graduate and Current U.S. Senior Men's National Team Member
DAY THREE: Allan Bower
With the sun shining through the curtains of my 8x10-foot room, I woke up and headed downstairs to breakfast. Breakfast is one of my favorite meals (every meal is my favorite here in Japan) which includes rice, sweet eggs, miso soup, sausage, and most important, coffee! After eating, we all met in the lobby and left for the Funabashi gymnastics training facility. Today was our light day and even so the facility was packed with viewers who cheered and yelled at every handstand, flip, or step that we took. Practice lasted about 2 hours and we made sure to break a sweat and move around so we could flush out some of the lactic acid from the harder days of practice before.
"Today was our light day and even so the facility was packed with viewers who cheered and yelled at every handstand, flip or step that we took."
- Allan Bower
After practice we walked around in search of where all the locals went to eat. And we found it! With a line out the door, we stood in the sun and waited about 25 minutes for an unknown meal. After the group of people before us finally left, we entered the tiny restaurant and began to pick out different meats, vegetables, sauces, and toppings. Luckily, we had Genki with us, so he explained what was going on! We then gave all our chosen ingredients to the chef and he whipped up the best spicy ramen I have ever had. It was unreal! We then walked around exploring Funabashi and drinking some Boba tea.
Later that day we took an excursion to the Tokyo Tower in the heart of Tokyo. We took an elevator up 150 meters to an observatory deck which gave us a panoramic view of all of Tokyo. You could see the ocean, multiple Japanese temples, schools filled with students at recess and skyscrapers as far as the eye could see. There was even a glass floor which allowed you to look down to the people on the ground below you. After Tokyo Tower, we took a short walk to the Tokyo American Club (similar to a country club for international members) where we were greeted by hundreds of screaming fans. We took pictures, signed autographs and ate some American food with adults and kids of all ages. We felt like rock stars! After this we headed back to the hotel where we ate some of our Japanese sweets and watched the Japanese version of The Bachelor (not much on TV here). All in all, today was exhausting, but it will be an experience that I will never forget!
- Allan Bower, 2017 OU Graduate and Current U.S. Senior Men's National Team Member
DAY TWO: Colin Van Wicklen
It's an incredible opportunity to have a full week to train with some of the top guys from Team USA. Even getting to train with Allan, Yul and Genki is special because this camp feels like a reward for all the hard work we have put in while training in Norman, Oklahoma. The intensity is extremely high, and everyone is working hard to not only make an Olympic team but also to try and win an Olympic medal.
"The relationship that we are building with Japan will only make us stronger as a country in the sport of gymnastics."
- Colin Van Wicklen
Day two was a great day of training for Team USA. We were more adjusted to the time change and are almost over the jet lag. We trained on the back three events which include vault, parallel bars and high bar. Everyone was doing 1/2 routines or even full routines which is awesome to see. We still are over six weeks away from U.S. Championships so it's really motivating to see guys pushing hard to get into routine-shape, so they can be at their best come U.S. Championships. I think the most exciting opportunity of this camp is to train on the equipment we will see at the 2020 Olympic Games. Personally, I am using this as an opportunity to get used to the equipment and see if there are any minor changes or tweaks that need to be made.
This was also the first day we had the opportunity to train with the Japanese high school team. The gym was packed, and guys were working hard on every single event. It was a great atmosphere for training and really helped us even though we were still adjusting from all the travel and the significant time change. One of the coolest moments for myself was doing a P-bar first 1/2 and hearing a lot of the Japanese gymnast cheering me on. The relationship that we are building with Japan will only make us stronger as a country in the sport of gymnastics.
This is my first trip to Japan and it's especially meaningful since the 2020 Olympics will be held here next summer. You can really feel the excitement from not only our team but the coaches, trainers and the entire staff. I've been working hard this summer to improve my difficulty and get my start values up to the level I want them to be. The hard work is definitely paying off, but I know there is a lot of hard work ahead that needs to be done if I want to be back in Tokyo next summer for the Olympic Games.
- Colin Van Wicklen, 2017 OU Graduate and Current U.S. Senior Men's National Team Member
DAY ONE: Head Coach Mark Williams
On Sunday June 16th, the Oklahoma/USA team delegation departed from our gym at 4:00 am for the Funabashi, Japan, third annual Senior National Team training camp. I was again selected as one of the personal coaches for the week long training with the rest of the Oklahoma contingent included Allan Bower and Yul Moldauer, who both went last year as well, and the newer national team members, Genki Suzuki and Colin Van Wicklen. Jenna Allocco would also be going as the team athletic trainer. After two flights and a bus ride that took some 20 hours or so, we arrived in Funabashi on Sunday evening.
Since there was a lot to do the next day and most of us had not slept well on the long flight, we quickly got settled, found some dinner and got to bed early. Though the jet lag affected each of us differently, most of us were up before 5:00 am the next morning. I got up and walked/ran a little before breakfast. (Two and a half weeks post-knee surgery made it a slow-go but I enjoyed the new sights.) Afterward, we all met for breakfast at the hotel and compared notes on how sleeping and adjusting to the new time zone was a struggle.
Once we had breakfast, we all headed over to the Funabashi City Hall where Mayor, Toru Matsudo, held a welcome-back ceremony for our delegation. We had done this last year with him so there were a lot of familiar faces around the conference room. A huge banner had been hung in the lobby of city hall where each of the guys from the USA team were represented. At the ceremony, speeches were made, pictures were taken, and thanks were given for the opportunity to work with the city in preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Soon after, we traveled to the training gym at Ichifuna, Funabashi High School for morning training. The gymnastics facility there is one of the best men's workout gymnasiums in the world. It's equipped with some of the best apparatus available from Senoh in a clean, well-lit and airy environment. The guys were really looking forward to getting started.
My first trip to Japan was back in 1987 for the Junior International Invitational. Because men's gymnastics is very popular here and their teams have traditionally done very well internationally, I've been to Japan over a dozen times for camps, World Cup competitions and the 2011 World Championships. Over the years, I've come to love the people, the food and the gymnastics performed by the athletes of this country. I would have to say that Japan is the destination I most look forward to in all my international travels.
Our morning training got everyone moving around a little and prepared the athlete's bodies for the afternoon's gymnastics they would be doing. As we finished, the school hosted an assembly for the team in their auditorium. Dignitaries were introduced, the high school band played each country's national anthems and a rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen was performed. Yoichi Tomita, our delegation interpreter, spoke to the students about the purpose of our visit and said a few things about each delegation member.
From there, we had a quick lunch and went back for the afternoon training. The OU guys did ½ routines on floor, pommel horse and still rings. By the third event, it was evident that jet lag was affecting some the guys. But it was a good start to the week with lots more gymnastics to do in the coming days.
"Over the years, I've come to love the people, the food and the gymnastics performed by the athletes of this country. I would have to say that Japan is the destination I most look forward to in all my international travels."
- Mark Williams
The last event for the day was appearing at a semi-formal banquet at the hotel hosted by the city of Funabashi. Along with the Mayor, Yoichi, and Dennis McIntyre, the USA men's program coordinator and vice president for USAG, the USA ambassador for this region of Japan spoke to the team and the attendees. We also had a chance to taste various traditional Japanese cuisines, listen to the music played by the Ichifuna High School orchestra and toast the hospitality of our Funabashi hosts. It had been a busy and eventful day. After the tables were cleared, we all turned in for the day with the expectation of more fun coming throughout the week.
- Mark Williams, OU Head Coach and USA Gymnastics Coach