We all saw those tiny girly pink training t-shirts worn by the Chinese Worlds team in Tokyo, emblazoned with their brazen exclamation; “China 2012 Champions”. The fact that these cute but declamatory t-shirts were written in English made them less a sartorial form of inspiration board for the girls themselves and more a warning to the gym world that China plans to repeat the glory of their home town win in Beijing in 2008.
Whether they can repeat or not is a big question mark. Since their huge win, the USA has happened on an even more powerful, talented pool of young gymnasts, while Russia has proved they are well and truly back in the mix. For whoever does claim the coveted team title, it will be no cake walk, that is for sure.
The Chinese are thinking hard about this, about being defending champions, about having to accept the challenge of being reduced to a five-member team and in realising the Olympics is merely five months away. According to a recent training report;
“Everyone knows that the London Olympics team competition regulations are subject to change, and that each team can only report 5-less than the World Championships first qualifying round is a 5-4-3 race system (registration 5 play four total score of 3 people), the final 5-3-3 (registration 5 to play three people within 3 results). The new regulations, according to the specific circumstances of each team member, ask them not only to maintain the leading strength to win gold single, but that they will have to improve on their weaknesses in order to contribute to the group so as to ensure our overall strength will not be much impact of the new regulations. “
They are now in closed team training. So, who is in consideration for this Chinese Olympic team, anyway? Well, according to one of the Chinese coaches Weibo (via Jessica), these are the girls who are part of the Olympic training squad. Their are fourteen girls training in this group.
For starters, we have many of the old Beijing guard training in this batch. In fact, they seem to have more Beijing team members in training than any other nation. Of the Beijing set, only Li Shanshan is not among these girls.
The experienced seniors;
Cheng Fei- Cheng Fei is simply one of gymnastics’ most recent and greatest superstars. She is a mould breaker, an innovator, a leader and a fighter, and she has been away from the sport for far too long. To see her back on the team would please fans the world over.
He Kexin- Stoic He Kexin is in for China for one single routine. She is a mere thirty seconds of value, but how valuable that thirty seconds can be when it comes to earning hardware in the event finals. In the recent news video, she said she would be focusing on finding ways to make her bar set even better. Given the reduction of the team to a five-member unti, it will remain to be seen whether one brilliant routine is enough to get on the team.
Yang Yilin- I am always happy to hear Yan Yilin is training because she is such a delightful gymnast. Once a terrific all-arounder and an exsquisite bar worker, she has not quite showed that same star potential, mostly due to her training having been badly affected by injury. She has not been in the Worlds team since 2010.
Deng Linlin- Deng Linlin has also not been on a major team since 2010. This leg gymnast is a great vaulter and beam worker but seems to have been over shadowed by younger gymnasts with equals talents across the board. She still has it on floor, however, where she won the FX title at the 2011 Individual titles in China last year. She is getting an outing at the Doha World Cup shortly.
Jiang Yuyuan- Jiang Yuyuan has been the team stalwart for some years now. In 2010 she proved she was still a major contender, taking a medal in the all-around. By 2011 her position was less starring role and more supporting actress, but she was a great table-setter for China and may be again.
Then we have the mid-term gymnasts, girls who made themselves known in the period since Beijing;
Sui Lu- The reserve for Beijing, Sui Lu is one of only two gymnasts for which there is no doubt in my mind will be on the Olympic team- injury and disaster notwithstanding. She is just so, so valuable with her amazing start scores, her ability to complement China’s bars depth with her floor and beam prowess and her ability to take individual medals.
Huang Qiushuang- Ah HQ! Well, we all know the debate here. Great skills, terrific bars, strong all around talent, but troubling inconsistency. Will China take the risk in a five-member team- especially now they have more potential DTYs?
Wu Liufang- Would it not be the most bittersweet blessing if Wu Liufang got named to the Olympic team and…imagine this….got to stay on it? Twice now we have seen this uber-talented little gymnast make the team, but be relegated to reserve. Let us hope she has a chance this time.
Then we have the no-longer-rookie kids;
Tan Sixin- Tan Sixin troubles me. There is not a doubt in my mind she is very, very talented, and capable of bringing in great numbers with her beautiful gymnastics, but her nerves seem to be something of a problem. Of course, I keep holding out, thinking, ‘well, it is just rookie nerves, she’ll improve her competition mindset’. But seriously, it has to happen soon, or she is quite a risk in a three-up three- count format.
Yao Jinnan- And this is the other gymnast I have very little trouble imagining on this Olympic team. Not only does she have huge scores and incredible consistency for her relative inexperience, she has every chance as a small handful of girls of taking the all around prize.
And then there are the newbies. They are faced with the incredible challenge of making a case for their competitive value and their psychological merits in their rookie year- a year which also happens to be an Olympic year;
Zeng Siqi- This little girl charmed the crowds at the 2010 Pacific Rim International, where she shared the floor bronze and delighted with her sweet gymnastics. Since, she has proved to be more than the cutest face in the sport, placing third at the Chinese Nationals last year. Trained by Ling Jie, she has some great beam work and can do a DTY, apparently, which ups her worth immeasurably.
Huang Huidan- Newly senior this year, this girl won the all-around at the China Intercity Games and has a heck of a bars set- one that could get her a spot on a major team. She is no slouch on beam either. Her bars, however, is virtuosic, original, intricate and beautiful. Behold;
Shang Chunsong- Another new senior Shang Chunsong is a good all-arounder. She won the senior individual cup at the 2011 Wild Rose International AA competition, impressing many, particularly with her beam work. Yes, this little girl is another one of those Chinese girls capable of massive skills and precise execution on the beam. There are shades of Sui Lu here. It will remain to be seen how she exercises her potential this year.
Luo Peiru This gymnast will be part of the 2012 Pacific Rim Team, which also includes Tan Sixin and Shang Chunsong. She is another good bars worker, taking the title for that event at the 2011 Individual Championships in China and second at the inter-city games, where she won vault. Her bars set is varied, with some great sills, like a full-twisting DLO;
On vault, she throws a good, clean, high DTY.
So, it really remain to be seen how much the Chinese Olympic team will comprise of the old guard and how much will be built on new blood. I am excited to see how they all perform in the terrific range off meets they will all be competing in this month.
Here is where we will see the Chinese women compete in the early season;
Cottbus: Cheng Fei, Zeng Siqi, He Kexin, Wu Liufang
Pac Rims: Tan Sixin, Shang Chunsong, Luo Peiru, Jian Tong, Wang Mei, Mei Jie Lou Nina
Zibo Cup: Cheng Fei, Sui Lu, Tan Sixin, Yao Jinnan
Doha: Deng Linlin and Jiang Yuyuan
Chinese Gymnastics Team Website: http://www.cga.net.cn/
See a photo gallery of the Chinese team in training: http://photo.sports.cn/hdslide.jsp?id=47201
Article: Brigid McCarthy
Cover photo: L-R Tan Sixin, Zeng Siqi with coach, Huang Qiushuang