Friday, 21 December 2012

China's Champions

"Starting from nothing we can forge gold, and the gold will shine"
-Encouraging words from the Chinese National training centre in Beijing

China has a strong history in artistic gymnastics. Chinese gymnasts are known for their elegance, especially on bars and beam where they display intricate and difficult gymnastics performed with breath-taking precision. Chinese gymnasts are often small with long lines making them very well suited to the sport. China has produced some of the most beautiful and innovative gymnastics seen over the last 20 years, but mistakes often plague them, meaning that no single gymnast has ever won all-around gold at an Olympics.
The following list includes (some of) the Chinese greats over the past three decades.

Yang Bo (1899 World Championships, 1990-1992 Olympics)

A young Yang Bo

Yang Bo was one of China's young stars to emerge after the 1988 Olympic Games. She was known especially for her balance beam performances, where she perfroms her own skill, the Yang Bo. This is a split leap with the head dropped fully backwards and is currently a D-skill. Her routine from the 1989 World Championships is shown below. Note the beautiful toe point and the extension through her legs during both acrobatic and leap movements. Her acro series is impressive (back-handspring, layout step-out into a full-twisting Korbut flip) and performed with amazing amplitude. Unfortunately she did not win gold at the 1989 World Championships because of a mistake on the dismount.

Yang Bo competes on balance beam for China during the event finals at the 1989 World Championships

Performing her trademark 'Yang Bo' leap

Liu Xuan (retired after the 2000 Sydney Olympics)
Liu competed for China at the 1995, 1996 and 1997 World Championships where she won three medals (two team and one for beam). After the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, she continued training for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she was one of the older gymnasts on the team (the Sui Lu of 2000!). She performed extremely well in these Games, finishing 3rd in the all-around competition and winning gold on the balance beam. She also contributed to the team effort earning a bronze medal, which was recently stripped from the team due to Dong Fanxiao being underage. As well as being a beautiful performer on beam, Xuan showed originality on bars, being the first female gymnast to perform one-armed giant swings on the high bar. This was down-graded to a B skill to discourage female gymnasts from performing this move.

Liu Xuan performs her optionals un-even bars for China at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta 

Liu Xuan earns her Olympic Gold medal for balance beam at the Sydney Olympics after another 4 years of sacrifice and hardwork

Zhang Nan (retired 2009)
Zhang placed 3rd in the all-around competition at the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens (only the second Chinese gymnast to medal in the all-around after Liu Xuan). She was hailed as being China's best all-around gymnast and was a reasonably consistent competitor under pressure. She was always incredibly focused during competition and her hard work clearly played off. Her floor routine was particularly enjoyable and had an interesting choice of music which was very well suited to her style and her country. It is well-paced and she makes the tumbling, leaps and turns look effortless.

Zhang competes on floor in the final rotation of the 2004 Olympic Games

Zhang on beam during the team final at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens

Team China, 2008 Olympic Games
Cheng Fei, He Kexin, Deng Linlin, Jiang Yuyuan, Yang Yilin and Li Shanshan
These six young ladies made gymnastics history at the 2008 Olympic Games held in Beijing, taking the gold medal in the team final (both men's AND women's) in front of a home crowd. No doubt the Chinese coaches had been meticulously grooming a new generation of gymnasts to compete at these games. They worked magnificently as a team, were strong with specialists such as He Kexin on bars, Li Shanshan on beam and team captain Cheng Fei on vault, floor and beam. They also had two solid all-around gymnasts, Yang Yilin and Jiang Yuyuan. Although the sustained one fall on beam, the managed to win the gold over the USA and Romania.

Team captain Cheng Fei celebrates after nailing her floor routine during the team final in 2008. Cheng also placed 3rd on vault and 3rd on beam in the event finals

 Tiny Deng Linlin competes on the beam during the team final. She became Olympic Champion on beam at the 2012 London Olympic Games

 The elegant Li Shanshan competes on the floor exercise. She also qualified to the beam final where she unfortunately fell during finals

Jiang Yuyuan performs some charming choreography on floor during the team final in Beijing

Yang Yilin competes on beam during the team final. Yang also placed 3rd in the all-around final behind Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson and 3rd on bars behind He Kexin and Nastia Liukin

Bars specialist He Kexin performs her laid-out Jaeger during the team final at the Beijing Olympics. She later went on to become Olympic bars champion in 2008 and placed 2nd in 2012

Cheng's famous floor from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which clinched gold for the Chinese Women's team for the first time in history

He Kexin's crazy difficult bar routine from the team final at the 2008 Olympic Games. She is their bars specialist and only competed on this event at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. China gains a huge advantage over countries such as the USA and Romania on this event

Chinese superstars of 2008, (left to right) Cheng Fei, Yang Yilin, Li Shanshan, He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan and Deng Linlin

Times of Change, 2012 London Olympic Games
The difficulty and consistency that the Chinese team displayed in 2008 was lacking in 2012, with China only earning a silver and a gold on beam and a silver on bars at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Their young all-around star Yao Jinnan had a rough time during qualifications and failed to qualify to the finals (she qualified first at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo). Deng Linlin carried the flame for China, becoming Olympic champion on beam and placed a respectable 6th in the all-around final with Huang Quishang close on her heels in 7th. China was edged out of the team medals by Romania due to some poor performances. Hopefully China will resolve to come back stronger in the next quadrennium. They will really need to work on upgrading vaults (well executed DTY are almost not sufficient any more) and floor routines. Hopefully with Cheng Fei helping out as a coach, they should make significant improvements on the power events.

Deng gives a wave after her gold medal-winning performance on the balance beam, where she edged out compatriot Sui Lu for the top spot

Yao Jinnan is embraced by her coach after competing her well-executed routine in the un-even bars final at the 2012 Olympic Games

Article by Imogen Browne @IFLIP4GymBlog

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