China’s Improvement Huge on Road to Rio

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The Chinese women impressed me more than anyone at world championships this year, not so much because they managed to easily capture the silver medal over an equally talented team, but because they showed expert strength and consistency relying on just five of their six members while their leader was stuck at home.

I think when Yao Jinnan announced she’d be sitting out this year due to shoulder surgery, many immediately discounted the Chinese, assuming Russia now had silver in the bag. Even without one of their own leaders, the Russians still counted three Olympians and a very experienced class of younger gymnasts and after qualifications, didn’t seem like they were missing Aliya Mustafina all that much. The Chinese, on the other hand, were fourth going into finals, counting two falls on bars, two on beam, and one on floor in what was a disastrous qualification. Consistency hasn’t exactly been their strong point in the past two quads, but without Yao they looked to be utterly falling apart.

Smash cut to team finals. Oh, hey, here’s the China we’ve been waiting for all these years! Aside from a fall from Wang Yan on beam, the team had an epic performance. It wasn’t as tidy as what we saw from the U.S., as their execution for hit routines averaged around an 8.6, but all this means is that there’s still so much room for improvement from these athletes. They spent the past year adding difficulty, and if they put that much focus in the coming year into cleaning it up, they could be a huge force at the Olympic Games in 2016.

Shang Chunsong emerged as a kind of hero in Glasgow. Once again, she was brought to our attention because of her size, with not only gym fans but also other gymnasts remarking that there’s “no way she’s 16.” Ahem, she’s only been on the senior international scene since 2012, so kudos to you all for finally noticing her existence and also, maybe don’t be a jerk and call her a cheater / diminish what she’s accomplished just because her size isn’t what you’d see from an American or Russian of the same age. Thanks to our good friends over at Mr Firefox’s Chinese Gym Blog, you can read more about Shang’s inspirational background and why she is considered petite even by Chinese standards.

We love Shang and she actually had an immense beam routine this year, but a six minute wait for the score before hers in qualifications rattled her and she fell, taking her out of contention for her greatest chance at an individual medal. No matter, as she only came back bigger and stronger in the team final, competing everything but vault with great focus and determination. Her floor routine this year is immense, and though her form there isn’t quite where it could be, she does very strong work with passes that make sense for her, considering tumbling generally isn’t a strength for tinier athletes.

She also did a fantastic job leading the incredibly inexperienced team, using three first-year seniors to compete a bulk of the routines in the final. Aside from Shang, the most seasoned member was Tan Jiaxin, the same age as Shang but who wasn’t considered strong enough for international competition until last year.

Tan didn’t have a very memorable performance in 2014, contributing a solid DTY in the team final alongside an adequate but not very strong floor routine. With bars her best event, she felt great disappointment, being two-per-country-ed out of event finals and then not used on the event in team finals. This year, she fell both there and on floor in qualifications, but she came through in finals, landing one of her strongest vaults to date and looking very clean with her difficult bars set, showing none of the nerves that plagued her earlier in the week. Like Shang, she definitely stepped up her game and was integral to the team’s excellent finish.

Then there’s the babies of the team – Mao Yi turned 16 the month before worlds, Wang Yan turned 16 while competing in the vault final, and Fan Yilin turns 16 tomorrow. Despite their age and lack of experience, all three performed like champions, even after all of them made grievous mistakes in qualifications. It’s not easy to come back from errors, but these gymnasts were mature and confident enough to shake off a bad day to hit consistent sets when it counted.

Wang did fall on beam, but otherwise she put up the top score on floor with her big tumbling and then matched Tan’s score on vault for the strongest there as well. Mao also added a solid DTY and a difficult floor set to the mix, while Fan showed beautiful work on both bars and beam (and has probably the best smile ever when saluting).

Each member of this team was crucial to achieving a score of 176.164, a full four points higher than the previous year despite being without Yao. Amazing what a little consistency can do, huh? The Chinese were definitely underdogs for silver this year, and they overcame a lot of adversity to not only make that spot happen, but also to narrow the gap behind the Americans compared to 2014. A little more difficulty, some form clean-up, and getting Yao back could make them huge contenders next year. While the Americans still have the major edge in terms of winning gold, the Chinese aren’t going to make it as easy as it’s been in the past.

Actually, this year’s team reminded me of the Americans in 2011. Five gymnasts, mostly new to the scene, coming together and achieving a goal many thought unreachable? This team had one of the most exciting comebacks in recent history, and the ladies looked so proud of what they were able to accomplish. They were definitely a bit overshadowed by Great Britain’s historic bronze, but honestly, such an improvement in the past year is huge for the team given the inexperience and odds stacked against them. It was an excellent meet for them and surely will inspire confidence going into the Olympic year.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

6 thoughts on “China’s Improvement Huge on Road to Rio

  1. Thanks for being back with such great articles! Checked this site way too many times over the paat days but it was definitely worth the wait!
    Oh and I’m so happy Shang Chunsong’s story is now adressed on many different sites – maybe people will begin to understand….

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  2. Pingback: Lauren Hopkins on USA in Glasgow | Excellent Liquid Chalk for Weight Lifting

  3. I was so glad that China did well during the TF and a good amount of them went onto EF. What are your predictions for the Olympic team next year, given if everyone’s healthy? My predictions are Yao, Tan, Shang, Wang, and the last one is a toss up between Mao Yi (for floor and vault) and MAYBE Huang Huidan (btw, any idea why she didn’t go this year?). I was so scared when no Chinese scored over a 15 on bars during qualifications.

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    • Assuming everyone is healthy, I think the strongest Chinese team will be Yao, Shang, Wang, Tan and Fan.

      Huang Huidan didn’t attend this year because of injuries. She was said to struggle with connecting elements. She and Fan would be fighting for the same UB/BB spot, I think. Since they’re both consistent former world champions on UB, I think Fan’s higher BB scoring potential will give her the edge.

      Qualification –
      VT: Shang, Yao, Tan, Wang
      UB: Tan, Shang, Fan, Yao
      BB: Fan, Yao, Shang, Wang
      FX: Tan, Yao, Shang, Wang

      Team Final –
      VT: Yao, Tan, Wang
      UB: Shang (or Tan), Fan, Yao
      BB: Fan, Shang, Wang
      FX: Yao, Shang, Wang

      This can potentially be the strongest Chinese team we will have seen since the gold-winning 2008 team. I’m excited to see what they’ll bring next year. 🙂

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  4. Thank you for this article. So tired of the baseless accusations against the Chinese ladies. They work so hard to be discredited from false accusations. Also, Shang has looked this small for a few years now. And if China wanted to use underaged gymnasts, they could’ve used Wang earlier when they desperately needed someone for vault and floor.

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  5. The only thing I think people aren’t considering with regards to the numbers is that the U.S. improved by over 2 pts from 2014 w/o any falls in TF both years. China did do much better this year, but at least 2 pts of their improvement was a result of not falling. USA’s margin of victory was 6.693 in 2014 with China counting 3 falls and it was 5.174 in 2015 with China counting 1 fall. Add at least 3 pts to China’s score in 2014 and the margin of victory is 3.693 or less. Add 1 pt to China’s score in 2015 and the margin of victory is 4.174 or less. China did better but they definitely didn’t close the gap even without any falls. Even with upgrades and even if the US wasn’t upgrading, China would have a tough time making up that kind of deficit.

    Definitely excited to see what everyone comes up with this year and I hope everyone hits when it counts this year (last year’s Worlds was disappointing in that regard), but I don’t know that it’s necessary to create suspense where there really isn’t any right now lol. If everyone had hit in London (Paseka with a better VT, Mustafina and Komova w/o the errors on BB, Grishina and Afanasyeva w/o errors on FX), the US would’ve still come out on top…but it would’ve been pretty close. At this point, even if everyone hits in Rio, the US comes out on top and it’s not even a little close lol There’s just more depth this year. The US team for London was a pretty obvious choice….it’s gonna be a dog fight to even make the team for Rio.

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