putting the puzzle together: team China

After the nationals championships and the Sao Paulo world cup earlier this year and the recent Asian Championships, we have a clear image of China’s top gymnasts who are in contention to represent their country at the upcoming world championships. There, China will be hoping to defend their silver medal and they have the talent and the potential to do that. Τhey suffered one big loss, when their top athlete, Yao Jinnan needed to stay away from competition for an entire year, recovering from a shoulder surgery but thankfully, they have enough depth to make up for her absence. The other members of the 2014 silver medal winning team are all hoping to compete at worlds once again. Those are, world uneven bars champion Huang Huidan, national All Around champion Shang Chunsong, uneven bars world cup champion Tan Jiaxin, world beam silver medalist Bai Yawen, national All Around bronze medalist Chen Siyi and the alternate Xie Yufen. They will have to compete against the next generation of Chinese gymnast, which includes Youth Olympic Games, Asian and national champion Wang Yan, national uneven bar and Asian balance beam champion Fan Yilin, Asian uneven bars champion Zhu Xiaofang, Asian championships finalist Mao Yi and world cup champion Deng Yalan.

imagesAfter participating in multiple international competitions, including two world championships, Shang Chunsong is now a veteran on the Chinese team. However, the truth is that she hasn’t really proved herself yet. She has done a brilliant job in most national competitions but when it’s time to perform against other countries in the world’s highest stage she never seems to be able to handle the pressure. Her inconsistency and her execution errors would hurt her chances to travel to Glasgow if her teammate, Yao Jinnan was still competing. However, with Yao out, China desperately needs good All Arounders who can deliver on every event if needed and that makes Shang a lock for the team. She was supposed to debut a double twisting yurchenko last year but the chances of that happening seem to be smaller and smaller as time goes by. However, she still has some of the highest start values in her country on bars, beam and floor and she is one of the very few Chinese athletes who really can tumble and that makes her extremely valuable. With the Olympics just one year away, Shang has one last opportunity to prove that she can deliver in the sport’s highest stage and make a strong case for herself as a contender for the Rio team.

tumblr_nrr689g6Z81tu1y6io10_250First year senior Wang Yan really is the savior of Chinese gymnastics. In a country with major lack of depth on vault and floor she brings a rudi, a double twisting tsukahara and a silivas on the table. This is enough to make her a lock for every single major Chinese team right now. In addition to her strong start values on the “power events” Wang is also an excellent beam worker, with fantastic skills, like a grigoras and a triple full dismount and gorgeous execution. Her uneven bars are relatively weak but this is not going to hurt her chances to make it to worlds, since China has plenty of gorgeous uneven bars workers who can make up for her weakness. She has been in the spotlight for a while and she really proved that she is one of the world’s best at the Youth Olympic Games of 2014, when she won the gold medals on vault and beam. As her silver medal from the Chinese championships proves, she is one of her country’s best All Around athletes and she is a final contender for her best events.

With Shang Chunsong, who is weak at vault and Wang Yan, who is weak at bars, definitely going to Glasgow, it’s clear that China could use a gymnast that fills the holes those two have left and can complement them on their weak events, bars and vault. Thankfully, there’s an athlete who can do exactly that and it’s no other than 2014 worlds silver medalist Tan Jiaxin. Tan was one of the most improved athletes of 2014. She always had a reputation as a great uneven bars worker but it was clear tumblr_nd0sly1TR31tu1y6io1_540that her country could not really use a bars specialist. Tan realized that and she worked extremely hard on her weakest events until she had team final worthy routines on vault and floor too. Last year she had one of the best double twisting yurchenkos in the world. She has successfully trained an amanar, but a couple of injuries prevented her from competing that skill. I’m not sure if she’s planning to debut that vault but it would definitely be a big risk. She is also one of the word’s best on uneven bars and she’s the only athlete who is currently competing a double twisting double layout, which is one of the most difficult dismounts in the world. We haven’t heard about her beam training for a while so she definitely won’t be contributing on this event. Her floor, which starts with an impressive 1.5 step out into triple twist, is not spectacular, but it’s a reliable routine that could post a solid score during qualifications.

So with those three athletes we have:

VT: (Shang Chunsong) Tan Jiaxin, Wang Yan

UB: (Wang Yan), Shang Chunsong, Tan Jiaxin

BB: Shang Chunsong, Wang Yan

FX: (Tan Jiaxin), Shang Chunsong, Wang Yan

tumblr_ndegzqlTct1tu1y6io4_1280It’s clear that this team needs a bars and beam specialist, and of course in China there are plenty of people who could fill this spot. The most well known of them is has to be the world champion Huang Huidan. Huang started getting plenty of attention in 2012 for her impressive difficulty and her unique routines that were quite different from what we usually see from China. However she lacked the consistency and the polish that would make her a top contender for the Olympic team. She has come a long way since then and after lots of hard work she proved herself as one of China’s most reliable bars and beam specialists last year. During world’s team finals, she was the only athlete who hit their routine on the uneven bars and she also showed impressive work on balance beam, contributing essentially to the team’s silver medal. The truth is that her 2015 hasn’t been ideal. During nationals she didn’t manage to qualify to beam finals and she had a fall on bars during qualifications. She still made it to UB EF but there, she did not manage to win the title over her youngest teammate Fan Yilin. However, given all her accomplishments during the quad, I’m sure that the coaches will overlook her little mishaps if she shows strong routines from now on.

fan yilinFan Yilin, the national uneven bars champion and the asian championships balance beam champion, is an other strong contender for the worlds team. She has a very impressive 6.7 start value on bars as well as a 6.3 on beam. She really is a beautiful gymnast with gorgeous lines and toe point and it’s delightful to see her being succesful as a senior after struggling with injuries during her junior career. At the age of 16, she has already won a national title as well as a gold, a silver and a bronze medal at the Asian championships so she has already proven herself in the international level. In addition to being one of the world’s best uneven bars workers she has also been quite consistent on balance beam, which is always very important to team China. After how well she has done this year, it will be hard to leave her at home. If it comes down to those two athletes fighting for the same spot, I’m not sure who will be the one who will get a ticket to Glasgow. Fan Yilin has had a much better year than Huang Huidan so far and she has proven herself on both bars and beam. She’s younger, she’s healthier, there’s more room for upgrades on her routine and she could have a bright future ahead of her. On the other hand Huang has an equally impressive level of difficulty, she is much more experienced, she has proven she can hit when it mattered the most and she has been a world champion. Hopefully, there will be enough room for both of them to make it though. They are both so gorgeous and I don’t want to imagine a team without either of them. In a team with Huang Huidan, Shang Chunsong, Tan Jiaxin, Wang Yan and Fan Yilin, the line up would look similar to that:

VT: (Huang) Shang Tan, Wang

UB: (Wang) Shang, Fan, Tan, Huang

BB: Huang, Fan, Shang, Wang

FX: (Tan) Shang, Wang

It’s obvious that this team desperately needs a vault and floor specialist and there are three people who could potentially fill that spot. The first one of them is Mao Yi who was one of the biggest and best surprises of the year. When we saw her doing a freaking 3.5 twists into a front tuck at the Li Ning Cup in the beginning of the year, most of us thought our eyesmao yi were failing us and her 2.5 into a rudi and gorgeous triple full were beyond impressive as well. In addition to being a fabulous tumbler, she’s also a good dancer and performer and her floor routine, which is a tribute to former Chinese gymnast Pang PanPan is very entertaining. She also attempted a double twisting yurchenko at the Asian Championships but she did not land it successfully. Her beam routine includes a front handspring and her bars set starts with a maloney into a pak and a van leeuwen. With a routine than can score above the middle 14s on floor, a double twisting yurchenko on vault and bars and beam routines that could be used in qualifications Mao, could very well be a lock for the team. However there is a problem. She is quite inconsistent. She clearly is one of the best floor workers in the country but she wasn’t able to get a medal on this event at nationals because she fell during the finals. The same thing happened during the Asian Championships, where Mao finished 7th, below athletes she could have easily beaten. She has also never landed her DTY in a competition and it is very risky for China to have her in their vault line up. It looks like the coaches really believe in her and this is totally understandable considering how much she improved in the last year. At the asian games, they chose to have her compete on all events even though they had to leave Xie Yufen out of their bars line up. This proves that they see lots of potential. Thanks to her amazing difficulty, and to the fact that she is a vault and floor specialist in a country that lacks powerful tumblers and vaulters, Mao still is one of the top contenders for the team but she will have to really prove herself. chensiyiIf she doesn’t manage to do that, that would open the door for 2014 world silver medalist Chen Siyi. Chen really is an All Arounder and her best event is actually the balance beam but there are other gymnasts in China who can score higher than her there. Seeing that her country needed vault and floor specialists, Chen worked really hard to improve on those two events and she contributed on them at the world championships, where she had falls and mistakes. She has a double twisting yurchenko on vault and this is very valuable for the team but she typically lacks power and lands with her chest quite low. She also has a full in and a triple full on floor, but she once again gives deductions away with low landings and her start value is only a 5.6. She can score in the high 14s on bars and beam and her front pike and layout are beautiful but this doesn’t really mean much when her teammates canchenn break 15 on these events. During 2015, she has had some ups and downs. She had a couple of falls at nationals, she didn’t challenge for a medal in the Sao Paulo world cup. Then, she did a great job at the Asian Games. She did not get an individual medal but she delivered solid routines and received good scores to help the team win the silver medal. However, it’s worth noting that the coaches pulled her out of floor finals so Wang Yan could compete. That shows that she’s not the one to whom they want to give a chance. Chen is a good gymnast and she would be the perfect alternate because she can deliver an okay routine on every event but I’m not sure if having her on the team would be ideal. Just like Mao, she desperately needs to show consistency in order to make it. However, Mao is young and inexperienced while Chen has been in the sport’s highest stage so there is less room for error for her.

downloadI was hoping that first year senior Deng Yalan would also be a strong contender for the team. Her best event is vault, where she is capable of a double twisting tsukahara and a rudi. She has a lot to improve about those skills, but she can complete the rotations, land on her feet and score higher than most of her teammates. She won the gold medal on this event at this year’s Sao Paulo world cup and she seemed to be an exciting addition for team China. Her floor was also promising last year. She performed a triple full, 2.5 twists into a front pike and with her dynamic choreography, she had a very different style to the one we usually see from China. There were some rumors about her successfully training a silivas and having a huge floor routine but we never got to find out if this is true. The problem is that Deng has struggled with injuries this year and we have only seen her competing on vault at Sao Paulo. She hasn’t attended any other major download (2)meet and she has not shown her routines on any other event. Because of her lack of experience, Deng can’t be considered a reliable athlete. She hasn’t proven herself internationally, she hasn’t shown she can hit her routines under pressure and taking her to worlds would definitely be a risk. That’s not to say that she has no chance. If she’s healthy she should be considered. I just think that her chances would have been so much better if she was recovered in time to prove herself in the Asian championships.

So we have those possibilities

a team with one bars and beam specialist: Shang, Wang, Tan, Huang, Mao, Chen

VT: (Shang: 5.0) Mao:5.8, Chen: 5.8, Tan: 5.8, Wang:6.2/6.0

UB: (Wang: 5.6), Chen: 6.2, Shang: 6.7, Tan:6.9, Huang: 6.8

BB: (Mao:6.0) Chen:6.2 , Huang:6.0, Shang 6.6, Wang: 6.6

FX: (Tan:5.7/Chen:5.6) Tan/Chen, Shang: 6.7, Mao: 6.0, Wang: 6.3

Difficulty total with 4 scores counting: 100.3

Difficulty total with 3 scores counting: 76.3

We can raplace Huang Huidan with Fan Yilin and have 0.2 more in difficulty since her unveven bars start value is a 6.7 compared to Huang’s 6.8 and her balance beam start value is 6.3 compared to Huang’s 6.0. Huang is much more consistent with her combinations though. Counting Mao or Chen’s double twist on their vault line up is not ideal, but if they replace one of them with Deng Yalan the rest of their event will most likely suffer. This is a strong team with a high scoring potential. The only real problem is that they are relying heavily on Chen Siyi who is a rather inconsistent gymnast. The alternative is a team with two bars and beam specialists: Shang Chunsong, Wang Yan, Tan Jiaxin, Huang Huidan, Fan Yilin and Mao Yi or Chen Siyi

VT: (Huang: 4.0), Shang: 5.0, Mao: 5.8, Tan: 5.8, Wang: 6.2/6.0

UB: (Wang: 5.6), Shang:6.7, Fan:6.7, Tan:6.9, Huang:6.8

BB: (Mao:6.0) Huang:6.0, Fan:6.3, Shang:6.6, Wang:6.6

FX: (Fan:5.3), Tan: 5.7, Mao:6.0, Shang: 6.7, Wang: 6.3

If we take Chen instead of Mao we have 0.4 less in floor difficulty. We also have a low but more reliable double twisting yurchenko and a better backup on beam.

4 events total: 100.3

3 events: 76.7

This team has slightly more difficulty in the 3 up 3 count line up than the previous one and Fan Yilin should be able to get a much higher score than Shang Chunsong on the uneven bars so that boosts their scoring potential as well. The major problem is that they only have 2 double twisting yurchenkos to go with Wang’s rudi and Huang will have to vault her yurchenko layout in qualifications. However, there’s not a possible scenario where China won’t make it to the team finals. If that happens, they’ll have to mess up so badly that 0.8 from an extra DTY in qualifications won’t even matter.

Bai Yawen of China performs during the women's beam final at the Gymnastics World Championships in Nanning, in China's southern Guangxi province on October 12, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Greg BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)Unfortunately, there are some gorgeous athletes who will most likely have to stay at home because they don’t quite fit into the team, despite being potential finalists and even medal contenders on their good events. The most notable example is the reigning world silver medalist on beam, Bai Yawen. She really is a gorgeous beam worker, with great difficulty and execution, but she doesn’t have any other team final worthy events and her team does not need a beam specialist right now. On top of that, Bai did not medal on her favorite event at nationals, and when you are an one event specialist you need to be your country’s best on this event, and she’s not. The alternate of last year’s world team, Xie Yufen is in a similar position. She is a great bars worker, with beautiful execution and an impressive 6.4 start value while she is also solid on beam.zhu xiaofang Countries like Romania, Canada or Italy would kill to have her on their line up but in China, she is just not needed since some of her teammates have higher scoring potential that she does. Xie competed at the Asian championships, but the coaches chose not to put her on the uneven bars line up so Mao Yi will have a chance to show what she can do on this event. This proves that they don’t consider her the most promising athlete of their team. First year senior Zhu Xiaofang would also be a lock in most teams around the world. She is the reigning Asian Champion on the uneven bars, where she has a 6.4 start value and she has a strong 6.0 beam routine. Her execution is to die for, her lines and toe point are stunning and her work is absolutely superb. However, she can’t score quite as high as Huang Huidan or Fan Yilin, so unless one of them gets injured she doesn’t have a good chance to go to worlds.

Right now, my predicted team is: Shang Chunsong, Wang Yan, Tan Jiaxin, Huang Huidan and Fan Yilin with Mao Yi and Chen Siyi fighting for the last spot. If Mao proves she can put her DTY on her feet and hit her floor routine consistently, I’d say she is the one who will take the ticket to Glasgow with Chen being the alternate. Regardless of who will end up going to Glasgow, team China has massive potential. I don’t think they are at USA’s level but they are definitely strong contenders for silver and they could very well qualify at least one gymnast to each final and challenge for gold medals on bars and beam. As always, they are their own worse enemies.and their inconsistency is going to be their biggest rival. I hope that they will not lose any other athletes to injury and that they will manage to handle their nerves and show to the world the gorgeous gymnastics they are capable of.

photo credit: x x x x

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6 thoughts on “putting the puzzle together: team China

    1. Thank you. Sad to see that Deng Yalan is not ready yet but hopefully she can make a case for herself next year. I’m also glad to see Zhu is being considered but I hope that Huang, Fan, Shang, Mao, Wang and Tan are the ones who make it to the line up.

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