2007 training camp interview with … gymnast Yewki Tomita

This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Star in January 2007.

Japanese training re-energizes Tomita

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO — No one would ever accuse Yewki Tomita of being a slacker.

Years in the gym have given his body a chiseled physique and made him mentally tough as well.

Call him optimistic. Call him focused. And though he has been slowed by shoulder injuries and a slew of surgeries during the past half-dozen years, the Tucson native has never given up the sport he loves or lost sight of his goal: to compete for USA Gymnastics in the Olympics.

So here he was in Japan, the land of his heritage, for an intense weeklong training camp with his father, Yoichi, and the USA Gymnastics men’s team last week.

The group, which included 10 of the 14 U.S. national team members, left The Land of the Rising Sun on Sunday, but not before engaging in productive, mutually beneficial practices and some fun along the way. (The athletes strengthened their friendship during a sushi dinner — sans coaches — last Thursday; the coaches, meanwhile, were talking shop at another Tokyo eatery.)

“Training camps in general, even if it’s just the U.S. guys, are special,” Yewki said after Friday’s workout. “But to have the dynamic of traveling to Japan and training with the current Olympic (team) champion, it definitely makes for a special time.”

That special time — the fourth time in the past five years that the two nations have held joint training camps, including ones in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2004 and last year — has given Tomita and his teammates plenty of time to enjoy the camaraderie of their Japanese counterparts without the stress of competition.

“This is the fourth time that our two teams have trained together and it’s been a very productive experience for all the athletes and coaches,” said Dennis McIntyre, the men’s program director for USA Gymnastics.

“We wouldn’t keep doing it if it didn’t meet everybody’s goals.”

For Yewki, a week of twists and turns and plenty of stretching exercises at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences in Tokyo provided a solid workout as he continues his recovery from a pair of shoulder surgeries. His right shoulder was operated on in April, while the left one underwent a medical procedure two months later.

As he observed his 26-year-old son training, Yoichi discussed his comeback in an optimistic manner.

“(He’s doing) very good,” said the elder Tomita. “I’m very pleased. He had surgery and he just came back from surgery.

“I think he’s way beyond (on the rehabilitation calendar). We are pretty pleased about his progress.”

Yewki, who resides at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, has not competed since March. But he had a memorable month, capturing the first-place medal in the high bar at the French International meet in Lyon.

He’s now in preparation mode for the Winter Cup Challenge, which commences Feb. 8 in Las Vegas. In that prestigious domestic meet, he said he will not compete in the rings, vault or parallel bars.

So how does he feel physically?

“My right shoulder isn’t quite there (yet), but my left shoulder is almost there, so I’m pretty pleased by that,” he said.

“The doctor doesn’t think I’ll be perfect until April, so I can’t expect (miracles).”

Maybe not, but one thing the younger Tomita can be sure of is that every hour he spent in the gym with the reigning Olympic champs was time well spent.

“I think the overall goal was to interact with the Japanese team and take from what they are doing and observe them and learn from them as much as possible, because that’s something that we don’t get to do on a daily basis,” he said with a hint of satisfaction in his voice.

“There’s a guy here (in Tokyo) who does vault as good as anybody I’ve ever seen. I can admire that. I don’t do vault right now, but eventually I might come back to it and it’s something that I can learn from as well.

“Yeah, I do tend to watch my events more. And there are a lot of strong high-bar guys here, which is my strong event, and there are a lot of strong pommel-horse guys in Japan on certain skills that I like to watch, especially the dismount.”

Or, as Yogi Berra once said: You can observe a lot just by watching.

Far away from his hometown, Tomita watched. He trained. He continued his quest to make it to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.

“It’s been a great camp,” Yewki concluded.

For father and son, last week also gave them a chance to have a mini-family reunion, too.

Yewki’s younger sister, Naomi, an elementary school teacher in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, visited them Saturday in Tokyo.

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