After a disappointing fourth place finish at the London Olympic, China achieved some great results as a team during 2014. As expected, they dominated the Asian Games and they won a well deserved silver medal at last year’s worlds, in front of their home crowd. During 2015, they lost the Asian championships team title to Japan, but this doesn’t really prove anything, since China used this competition to give experience to some of their younger athletes, while Japan sent their absolute top gymnasts. They come to Glasgow with a very young but also incredibly strong team, full of difficult and unique work and they are hoping to defend their silver medals. The athletes who will be trying to do that are: National and World Cup champion and world finalist Shang Chunsong, Asian Games champion and world team member Chen Siyi, Asian Games champion, world silver medalist and world cup champion Tan Jiaxin, national and Asian champion Fan Yilin, Asian champion Zhu Xiaofang, Asian championships silver medalist Mao Yi and Youth Olympic Games, national and Asian champion Wang Yan. Notably absent from the team are worlds medalist and Olympic finalist Yao Jinnan, world champion Huang Huidan and world cup champion Deng Yalan. Yao had a shoulder surgery at the beginning of the year and she is still in the recovery process while Deng also struggled with injuries that prevented her from competing for the biggest part of the year. Huang is also struggling with some pain and she under-performed during 2015. She was named to the 8 members worlds training squad and she traveled all the way to Paris to train with the team but at the end, it was decided that she would not go to Glasgow. Hopefully, those three beautiful athletes will have the time to recover and they will be ready to fight for a spot in China’s Olympic team next year.
The most experienced gymnast of the team is two times world team member Shang Chunsong. It really is so weird to see this young, unknown athlete who started making a name for herself in 2012 as a leader, but Shang really has achieved some great accomplishments during this quad. She started her year at the Sao Paulo world cup, where she did an absolutely excellent job on bars and beam, winning gold medals on both events. Unfortunately, she wasn’t equally successful on floor exercise, where she had a couple of scary falls. Then, she was successful at the Chinese championships, where she became the national All Around and balance beam champion while also grabbing a silver medal on floor exercise. Shang has always competed very well at national competitions but she always struggled when it was time to perform in the international stage. She has already participated in two world championships but she has shown nerves and inconsistency during both of them. She is an impressive gymnast with some fabulous skills, but if she wants to be a part of her country’s Olympic team, she will also need to show she can be consistent. If Yao Jinnan was healthy, I’m not sure if Shang would be a lock for the worlds team or if she would be competing on all four events. But now that her teammate is injured, she gets an other chance to prove that she is one of China’s top 2 All Arounders and that her country can count on her. Hopefully, she will manage to do that. If everything goes as planned, she could be a strong contender for the uneven bars and the balance beam finals.
An other member of the 2014 silver medal winning team who is returning to the world championships this year is Tan Jiaxin. A couple of years ago, nobody would have thought that Tan would be such a valuable member of the team. After all, she only showed potential on the uneven bars, and China definitely did not need any more bars specialist. Tan realized that and she worked extremely hard on the other events until she was one of her country’s best on vault and floor as well. Now, she is one of the most experienced and important members of her team. She was set to participate in the Sao Paulo world cup but she pulled out in the last minute due to injury, so she has not competed internationally during 2015. She was still coming back when the time the Chinese championships started and she did not achieve any spectacular results there, since she only finished 5th on the uneven bars. Despite those problems, she managed to prove herself and she is now ready to represent her country at the sport’s biggest stage once again. With the exception of her mistakes on her ray dismount, she looked pretty solid during podium training. She is hoping to help her team win a medal for one more time and to qualify into the uneven bars finals, where she can also fight for a medal.
The last 2014 world team member heading to Glasgow is Chen Siyi. Chen was a promising junior who made a case of her self in 2014, when she worked hard to upgrade her routines on vault and floor. Unfortunately, she has had a lot of problems since then, and despite all the opportunities she was given, she never showed much consistency. In 2015, she competed at the Sao Paulo world cup, where she qualified into three event finals without managing to win a medal. Then, she had a great competition during the All Around finals of the Chinese championships, where she finished third, but she had problems during the event finals and did not get a medal there. After that, she proved herself at the Asian championships, where she helped her team win a silver medal and she barely missed on an All Around medal. She also qualified in the floor finals, but she was pulled out so Wang Yan could compete. The truth is that Chen was one of the most likely candidates for the alternate spot and some mistakes she made during qualifications did not help her case. However, some of her teammates had biggest problems than she did, so she could end up being part of the main team after all. If that happens, she is expected to contribute on vault, beam and floor during qualifications.
Out of all the teams competing in Glasgow, the Chinese is probably the one that includes the most first year seniors. In fact, the last four members of the team are all 16 years old. The first of them, is the lovely Fan Yilin, who has really had a break out year in 2015. She showed great potential as a junior, especially on the uneven bars but then, she suffered from an injury that kept her away from competition for a long time. Thankfully, she recovered and she came back strong, just in time for her senior debut. Her first competition of the year was the Chinese championships and she did an absolutely excellent job winning a bronze medal on balance beam and a gold on the uneven bars. The fact that she won that title over the 2013 world champion Huang Huidan made her victory even more important. After that, people started talking about her as a potential contender for the worlds team. She proved that she was indeed among the country’s best at the Asian championships, where she won a bronze medal on the uneven bars and a gold on balance beam. Right now, Fan is one of the absolute best uneven bars workers in the world and she is expected to challenge for a medal, while she also is a potential balance beam finalist.
An other 16-years-old athlete who has achieved miracles during the year is Mao Yi. Unlike Fan, Mao was never a promising junior. Nobody expected anything from her and in fact, nobody even knew her name. And then, she appeared at the Li Ning Cup in the beginning of the year and threw a tumbling pass that had never been done by a woman before: 3.5 twists into a front tuck. Later, she competed at the Chinese championships, where she placed fourth in the All Around and qualified into floor and beam finals. Unfortunately, she did not deliver there and finished last on both events, but it was clear that she was a rising star for Chinese gymnastics. A few months later, she was chosen to represent her country at the Asian championships, where she debuted a double twisting yurchenko. She posted the sixth highest All Around score she qualified into floor finals but once again, she had mistakes and only finished seventh. With a potential double twisting yurchenko and her strong tumbling, Mao definitely had a lot to offer to the team. However, she was a young, inconsistent and inexperienced gymnast, who was competing way too many upgrades, so there was tons of pressure on her. At the end, she was named to the team, she traveled to Glasgow and even though she had some problems during podium training, she is going to participate in her first world championships. She is expected to contribute on vault and floor and she’s hoping to qualify into the floor finals.
The most famous Chinese first year senior is undoubtedly Wang Yan. She represented her country at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games and she did an excellent job, earning gold medals on beam and floor and a bronze on the uneven bars. As a junior, she had also placed third All Around and first on vault at the 2014 Chinese championships and her senior debut was highly anticipated, especially because she showed great difficulty on China’s weakest events. She started her senior career at the Li Ning Cup, where she revealed huge upgrades, like a silivas, a layout full and she unsuccessfully attempted a front handspring double full and a 2.5 twisting tsukahara on vault. Her first major competition was the Chinese championships, where she finished second in the All Around and won gold on vault and floor. She also qualified at the balance beam finals but only placed sixth after having mistakes. After that, she made her international senior debut at the Asian championships. She was the top contender for the All Around title, but at the end she surprisingly ended up second, 0.05 behind Japan’s Aiko Sugihara. However, she got her gold medals on vault, where she received big scores for her double twisting tsukahara and her rudi. She had originally not qualified into the floor finals after a fall during the first day of competition, but she got to compete after her teammate, Chen Siyi was pulled out of the competition and she ended up winning an other gold medal there. At Glasgow, Wang is expected to be one of China’s top All Arounders and she has a great chance to qualify into the vault and floor finals.
The last member of the team is the beautiful Zhu Xiaofang, who is also just 16 years old. I personally never thought that she would make it that far, because her only world class events are bars and beam, and China does not really need help in those. However, it looks like she showed more consistency than Huang Huidan and she was named to the team. Zhu made her senior debut at the Chinese championships, where she finished fifth in the All Around, fourth on balance beam and third on her best event, the uneven bars. After that, she was chosen to represent her country at the Asian
championships. Surprisingly, she did not get to compete on the balance beam there, but she actually contributed on bars, vault and floor, hitting her routines on all events. Then, she achieved the biggest accomplishment of her career, when she won the uneven bars title. Unfortunately, Zhu had a fair amount of trouble during podium training, making major mistakes on both bars and beam so she is very likely to be the alternate of the team. However, getting this far is still a great achievement for her and hopefully, she will use this experience in order to be even better next year.
So, let’s take a look at what those athletes can achieve on each event
One of the main weaknesses of China through the years, has been their lack of difficulty on vault and floor. Their teams are often comprised by gorgeous bars and beam specialists who take our breath away with their flawless technique but don’t seem to have enough power to get a good block or perform difficult tumbling. The Chinese coaches seem to be well aware of this problem and to be working to fix that. They still have a long way to go, but there has definitely been some progress. First year senior Deng Yalan, who won a world cup title on this event with her rudi and her double twisting tsukahara, could be very useful for the team on this even but unfortunately, she is out with an injury. This means that the only athlete in the team with a 6+ start value on the apparatus is the 16-years-old Asian Games champion Wang Yan. Her rudi seems more powerful and secure than ever before and she can get around her double twisting tsukahara without any trouble so she should be able to deliver some big scores and fight for a spot on the event finals. China is also heavily relying on Tan Jiaxin, who is capable of a beautiful double twisting yurchenko. Both Wang and Tan have worked into adding an extra half twist to her vaults but they are not going to take any unnecessary risks during the championships. There are two more double twisting yurchenkos on the team, but neither of them is particularly powerful or reliable. Chen Siyi has been performing that skill for more than two years but it still is very low and she crashed it during podium training. Mao Yi has recently upgraded into a double full and she fell on that vault during the Asian Games. However, she performed that vault much better during podium training. Some of her DTYs were lower than others, but it looked like she can safely get the two rotations around and get a solid score. Shang Shunsong and Zhu Xiaofang perform yurchenkos with full twists while Fan Yilin did not train vault for the biggest part of the year.
Thankfully, China will have the potential to make up for their weakness on vault on one of their favorite events, the uneven bars. It really is incredible how even when they barely have any depth, the Chinese manage to put together fabulous line ups on this event. During this quad, they have produced two uneven bars champions and neither of them is actually part of their current world teams. And yet, they still have the strongest line up in the world on this event. Chen Siyi is capable of some nice combinations, like a healy + ling + jaeger and a healy 1/2 + tkachev but she often struggles with hitting her handstands and is very inconsistent on this event so they aren’t really hoping to count her score. Wang Yan has never been spectacular here, and even though she showed great progress at last year’s Youth Olympic Games, she hasn’t upgraded since then. She performs a weiler, a weiler half, a forward giant 1/1 into a jaeger and a double layout dismount. The team doesn’t really need her on this event but I would love to see her improving so she can be more competitive in the All Around. Rising star Mao Yi shows some good potential on bars. She has nice swing and clean execution throughout her maloney + pak combination, her forward giant 1/1 + jaeger and her double layout dismount, even though her tkatcev could use some height. She is definitely not at the same level as some of her teammates and they are not hoping to count her score here but I’m excited to see what she can do in the future. Then, the four remaining athletes of the team are all freaking gorgeous. In fact, each and every one of them could potentially qualify into the uneven bars finals and fight for a medal. The newly crowned Asian champion on this event, Zhu Xiaofang gets huge flight during her maloney + pak combination, she performs a beautiful van leeuwen and she is capable of hitting perfect handstands during her pirouettes. Unfortunately, she had major problems with her routine during training but if she hits, she is absolutely gorgeous. Shang Chunsong has a spectacular routine with includes her own eponymous skill, connected with a pak salto, a shaposhnikova into a gienger, a healy + ling + jaeger combination and a high full in dismount. Word Cup champion Tan Jiaxin is also capable of fantastic skills and combinations, such as a hindorff + pak, a maloney + gienger and a healy + Ling 1/2 + tkatcev. If everything goes as planned, she could also be performing the most difficult dismount we will see at Glasgow, a double twisting double layout. She’s been having a fair amount of trouble with it during the year though and we have seen her downgrading so maybe she’ll decide to play it safe. An other star in the making on this event is first year senior Fan Yilin, who won the national uneven bars title over world champion Huang Huidan. Fan upgraded her opening combination and she now starts her routine with an incredibly difficult inbar full + komova 2 + pak + chow + gienger. She also performs an inbar half into two gorgeous pirouettes and a beautiful double layout. I definitely miss her old dismount, but even without it she has a fabulous routine that could contend for the uneven bars title.
As expected, China is also capable of magic on balance beam, which is an other event where they historically shine. Tan Jiaxin does not usually perform on this event so she’s the one we won’t see during qualifications. World Cup champion Shang Chunsong is capable of a ridiculously difficult routine, which includes a back handspring into two layout step outs, two back handsprings into a sky high layout, a double turn, a front aerial + sheep jump and a triple twist dismount performed in combination. She does give a few tenths away on execution but she is absolutely spectacular to watch. Asian champion Fan Yilin shows some beautiful low to beam work before performing a round of into a gorgeous layout, a fantastic switch ring, a front aerial into a sheep jump and a lovely 2.5 twists dismount while Zhu Xiaofang is also capable of the same elements, but dismounts with a triple twist. Chen Siyi, who has a round of + layout, a high front tuck and a switch ring, showed a beautiful full in dismount earlier this year, but it seems like she’s sticking with an effortless double tuck for the time being. Mao Yi is capable of a fabulous front handspring + front tuck combination, a switch half, a sheep jump and a fabulous triple twist dismount on this event but she is very inconsistent. Just like on the uneven bars, she shows potential for the future but she’s not quite ready to be trusted in a team finals situation. First year senior Wang Yan is simply breathtaking on this event. She starts her routine with one of the highest and cleanest grigoras the world has ever seen, she performs an incredibly straight layout and a sky high front tuck, she shows fabulous flexibility during her switch ring + sheep jump combination and she dismounts with a triple twist. In the past, she has even shown a beautiful layout full but I’m not sure if she’s planning to compete that in Glasgow. The depth of the team on this apparatus is incredible. They have five athletes (Wang, Shang, Fan, Zhu and Chen) who could all realistically qualify into the beam finals and fight for medals. Shang and Wang are the ones with the highest scoring potential, and therefore, the best chance to be on the podium here.
China’s floor is going to be one of the most interesting rotations of the entire competition. For the biggest part of their history, they have always struggled on this event and after their rather disappointing performance last year, it was clear that they desperately needed to upgrade their tumbling and clean up their execution. And they took this very, very seriously. Last year, they barely had any difficulty on this event and now, they somehow ended up with some of the most difficult combinations being done in the entire world. Some of their gymnasts are still weak here. Fan Yilin and especially Zhu Xiofang are both gorgeous to watch, but they don’t have any big tumbling and their start values are fairly low. Chen Siyi, who contributed on this event last year, performs a triple twist and a full in but she usually lands with her chest very low and she does not have a high difficulty score. Tan Jiaxin is a bit stronger on this event, since she performs an impressive 1.5 + triple twist and 2.5 twists into a front salto. She is not spectacular but she is clean and solid and she should be able to deliver a good score for qualifications. However, the three remaining athletes have some of the most difficult tumbling being done in the world. The tiny but powerful Wang Yan has shown excellent progress on this event. She starts her routine with a silivas, she performs an 1.5 step out + triple + front tuck combination and she continues with a clean 2.5 + barani before dismount with a double pike. Her double double could use some more height, but I believe she’s the first Chinese gymnast to perform this skill since the legendary Cheng Fei. We also have Mao Yi, who was one of the biggest surprises of the year. She was an unknown gymnast that nobody had ever heard of and she came out of nowhere to become the first woman to ever perform 3.5 twists in combination. She really has an incredible twisting ability and she also performs 2.5 twists into a barani and the highest triple full you will ever see. She doesn’t have the highest start value, because she doesn’t perform the most difficult dance elements and she has fallen a few times this year, but she has also proven that she’s capable of landing her difficult skills and I’m very excited to see what she can do. Then, there is Shang Chusnong who has been one of China’s top floor workers for the entire quad, She showed great potential on this event since the beginning of her career but she hasn’t lived up to it yet. Sure, she has shown some spectacular tumbling and I live for her 1.5 + triple twist + front tuck combination, but she struggles to break 14 internationally. It’s just so frustrating to see an athlete with such a difficulty routine never being able to get high scores. Shang should be making floor finals but instead, she scores on the low 13s over and over again. She crosses her ankles while twisting, she doesn’t always get enough height during her tumbling and she lands most of her tumbling passes very low. I was hoping that her coaches would take that into account and try to improve her execution so she can actually get a decent score but instead of that, they decided to pack even more crazy elements into her routine. Right now, Shang upgraded her first pass to a 3.5 + front pike combination, which gets scarier every time she competes it. She never gets all the rotations around, she never gets any amplitude during her front pike and she never executes that skill without risking major deductions and most importantly, a major injury. Her signature combination is also not every clean and she still lands her double pike with her chest low, so I expect her to receive poor execution scores once again. That being said, I’m very excited to see China upgrading their tumbling. Of course, I hope that in the future they will not have to sacrifice execution in favor of difficulty, but it’s good to know that they are aware of their weaknesses and they’re working on them
China is a team that doesn’t compete very often and they don’t provide us with information about their training and because of that, we tend to forget how freaking fabulous they are. They have an epic line up on the uneven bars, they have a gorgeous line up on beam and they even have some massive tumbling on floor and a couple of great vaults. In theory, a team with such an incredible level of difficulty should be able to challenge for a gold medal, even against USA. I don’t really think that China is quite ready for such a hard task though. They send a young and inexperienced team, they struggle with inconsistency and they have some execution problems on vault and floor. However, they have a significant advantage over every other team in the world. Right now, they are stronger than Russia and they are certainly stronger than Romania or Great Britain. The silver medal is their to lose, but if past performances are any indication, they are absolutely capable of losing it because they rarely hit when it matters. If they actually do their best, they should qualify several gymnasts into the event finals, they should win multiple medals and they shouldn’t be too far behind USA, but the question is, will they?
header photo by janny
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