Getting to the top, and then staying there, takes more than hard work. My Focus, presented by Milk Life, tells the stories of one area that 24 athletes are honing in on in their quest to stand atop the podium at the next Olympic or Paralympic Games.
Two years ago, Kanji Oyama’s gymnastics career was beginning to gather momentum as he headed toward a breakthrough 2016.
That was the year he developed into a strong overall competitor at Oklahoma, graduated, earned a spot on the U.S. men’s national team and went to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, where he finished 11th in the all-around.
Now more than a year and a half into his post-collegiate career, Oyama’s focus lately has been on making his routines and skills as clean as possible and keeping a positive attitude in the gym every day.
“After graduating college I was able to focus a lot more on just training and not having to worry about NCAA meets and school and stuff like that,” said Oyama, 23. “I only have to focus on training, trying to get better individually and on Team USA. That’s definitely helped. I’ve been able to write up my own plan and the skills I want to learn rather than just focusing on hitting and making the lineup.”
Oyama’s narrower focus at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has made a difference, he said. For instance, after a day in the gym, he’s able to go home and think about what he did well, what he didn’t and how he can improve the next day rather than having to rush off to class or study for an exam. He also now has more time to learn and perfect new skills without the pressure of having to hit everything sooner rather than later.
“The preseason is a little longer than it was in college,” he said. “We’re able to implement skills for longer periods of time and work on new things rather than saying if it doesn’t work, just take it out and do the routine without it. And then just keep taking things out until you can hit 90 to 100 percent of the time. Now I can work on hitting my routines 100 percent but still have the time to keep doing new skills and keep pushing forward.”
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Always a strong vaulter who won bronze in the event at the 2015 NCAA championships and finished fifth at the 2014 U.S. championships, Oyama said one event in which he’s noticed a big improvement of late is parallel bars. He has also been pleased about his progress in floor exercise, where he’s been able to swap out skills he wasn’t always comfortable doing for ones that are more difficult and play more to his strengths.
“That definitely got an upgrade for the first time in three or four years,” he said. “It’s just so hard to upgrade things in college since you’re so focused on hitting rather than difficulty, so I’ve definitely been able to make a push forward there.”
Another focus of Oyama’s has been keeping a positive attitude during training. When he first came to the Olympic Training Center, he said, he saw and made note of how athletes such as Olympians Sam Mikulak and Chris Brooks didn’t let a bad day in the gym ruin their mental state.
“You just have to try to not let it get in your head,” he said. “Just take a step back, look at what you were doing wrong, what you were doing right and what you need to change rather than getting in your own head and being frustrated and upset the rest of that day. That definitely helped me realize I don’t have to be perfect every day.”
In June, competing in the Guimaraes International Tournament in Portugal, alongside Yul Moldauer and Allen Bower, Oyama won titles in both vault and high bar and had the highest all-around score during the team finals, although there was no all-around award handed out. The trio finished in first place.
That led to another strong showing for Oyama at the U.S. championships. After finishing 14th in the all-around in 2016, Oyama was seventh this year in addition to a fifth-place finish on vault.
For 2018, Oyama’s goals range from once again making the national team to bigger goals of finishing in the top three in all-around and competing at the world championships.
“I just need to make every day count in the gym,” he said. “Just keep grinding hard.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.