In early December of last year, the Olympic hopefuls of the Chinese Gymnastics team journeyed to Nanjing for their six-week long training camp. Yao Jinnan, who was still in the recovering stage from her surgeries, was among the team members. According to her, training went well, relatively.
“My injury is sometimes better, sometimes worse. It fluctuates a lot, and it’s agitated whenever the training becomes more intense,” says Yao, who welcomed her 21st birthday two weeks ago. Yao has a more relaxed outlook now, but whenever Rio crosses her mind, she can’t help but feel anxious.
“Of course I’m frustrated. When I was in Nanjing, it seemed like I was recovering pretty quickly, but there wasn’t much progress in the month that I got back, so I’m stressed. Going forward, there’s much progress to be made, but because there’s much to do, at a certain point I’d be relatively scared.”
Yao underwent shoulder surgery in February last year and has been in recovery ever since. Because she wasn’t systemically training, she wasn’t able to compete at world championships last year. Currently, she’s progressing well on all four events. According to her: “I just need a dismount for my beam; there’s still a lot messing for uneven bars, I had the latter half of the routine, but I haven’t trained the apparatus for a month, so basically I have nothing; for floor, I recovered the individual skills and I just need to train the full routine; vault is going well, and I’m beginning to pick up my difficulty.”
According to Yao’s coach Xu Jinglei, whether or not she will be selected for the Rio team will depend on her recovery. Currently, it is going fairly well, but her confidence level might be affected by the fact that she has not competed in a while.
Finishing off the four-hour training session, Yao chatted with us as the team doctor treated her, and she was frank about her experience with injury and how it almost defeated her. “After my injury, mentally I was a bit withdrawn, and turned to avoidance. The skills are all recovering well, but the fear of injury is always there, so in training, if I can, I try not to go in, but when coach Wang and coach Xu pushes me, I move forward a little bit more.”
At 21, Yao is the “big sister” of the team. Compared to the preparation for London four years ago, she said that mentally, it is completely different. “Back then, I was still young, even though I was injured, but I wasn’t thinking about the Olympics at all, and I didn’t think I’d even make the team. I was just thinking even if I get injured, I can still go to nationals. I was completely naive back then. Now, I’d think about when I can recover and have full routines, I think about competing at the Huadong meet in April and getting back in competition mode mentally, and how it would be beneficial for me come May, at nationals.”
With the retirement of former teammates like Deng Linlin, Yao finds more responsibility on her shoulders. In the current women’s team, she is the only one who has been to the Olympic Games, and she often finds herself giving advice to her younger teammates. “When I first came to the national team, there were a lot of older teammates, and no matter what happened, there was someone to help you. And then suddenly, all the older ones were gone, and I’m the only one left. I felt super empty, and I had no idea what to do. So I guess whatever the older teammates did to help me, I try to do the same for the younger ones.”
As for her goals at Rio, she mumbled that she didn’t think that far ahead yet. “There’s still about half a year till the Olympics… right now I just want to train with everyone, and be closer to Rio.”