TOKYO, Aug.2 (Reuters) – In an Olympics billed as the most balanced to date, Mai Murakami took Japanese gymnastics in the same direction on Monday, winning a landmark medal that she hoped would help propel female gymnasts of the country out of the shadows of their long-successful male peers.
Murakami, 24, has been described by some as the best Japanese gymnast of all time. But the men’s team’s superior performances over the years – gold or silver at every Olympic Games since Athens 2004 – have meant a world of difference here for the benefit of the public and the media.
In contrast, the Japanese have won only one other Olympic medal – a bronze medal in the team all-around competition in 1964, when Tokyo last hosted the Summer Games.
Murakami’s bronze medal on floor on Monday was the first for Japan in a women’s individual event.
“I am honored to have become the person who rewrites this story,” said Murakami, who tied for third with Russia’s Angelina Melnikova.
“I think I may have made a good impression.”
Murakami, whose last few years have been marred by injuries, said she gave herself a “gold” for what she thought was the best performance of her gymnastic career on Monday.
But for women’s gymnastics in general, she said, there was more work to be done.
âThe next goal is to win a team medal,â she said. âUnless we do, we won’t be able to raise our profile as much. (Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Hugh Lawson)