Mao Yi in the Olympic Year

CCTV is producing a series of features to introduce China to the country’s Olympic hopefuls. We had our favorite Chinese gymternet pal over at Coach Lu Told Me To Be Consistent transcribe and translate so everyone can get the chance to learn more about the fabulous young women looking to represent China in Rio.

Without further ado…

Before 2015, Mao Yi had not yet made a name for herself and almost quit gymnastics. But after making the national team last February, it’s as if she has stepped onto a fast-moving train of success, making leaps and bounds in the sport.

Mao is a name not many had heard of before she appeared on the international stage of last year’s world championships. Even Mao herself, upon entering such a “grand event,” was a little shell-shocked.

“Right after podium training I was telling an older teammate, ‘Sis, I was so nervous during training. What do I do?’ And she said, ‘There’s no need to be nervous, it’s only podium training, it doesn’t matter. Even when it’s qualifications you’ll still be nervous. It gets better when team finals come around, because as you compete, your heart settles bit by bit.’”

“Compared to others, I’m quite a late starter,” Mao explained. “I gained my difficult skills later on and quite suddenly, and so some people say I came out of cram school.”

“Last year, about just after Lunar New Year, when she was added to the national team, she wasn’t young anymore, compared to most others (when they were added to the national team),” coach Xu recalled. “However, we just saw that she had potential and areas in which she excelled: notably her twisting. Yet in most other areas of gymnastics she was extremely lacking, like with some of her foundations. When she arrived, she basically didn’t have a full routine for any of her four events.”

After arriving at the national team, Mao worked extremely hard. In addition, she has a great personality, and thus she became extremely popular among her peers and coaches. During the Lunar New Year celebration’s annual lottery draw, the team head coach Huang Yubin and team leader Ye Zhennan both said that no matter who actually drew the ticket for the large screen TV, it could only go home with Mao.

“She performed very well during the world championships, and during training, she showed great work ethic and drive. So if I were to draw the ticket for the TV, I would give it to our pretty girl Mao. What do you say?” Huang Yubin announced to everyone’s cheers.

“Everyday, she has a smile on her face,” coach Wang says, “as opposed to some athletes who really feel the stress of training and it shows on their faces.”

Mao works extra hard because her experiences before entering the national team were so full of cruel twists of fate. Before the national team, Mao was sent through three different provincial teams. After the 2013 National Games, she did not know where life would take her.

“After the national games, the Liaoning team basically broke up. During that period, most of my time was spent wondering whether or not I should continue. I called my mother and she said there was a possibility that she might send me to Guangdong, and suddenly things seemed a bit brighter. But I ended up at Shanghai. To be honest, I didn’t think too much about it, because Guangdong and Shanghai are both strong teams. It didn’t matter which one I ended up at. But on the Shanghai team, in the beginning, training was honestly very hard and strenuous. Plus it was summer, so Shanghai was pretty hot. I was just drenched in sweat every day.”

Mao’s ancestor town is Ruijin of the Jiangxi province. Her parents have been working in Shenyang, renting their home in an old residential apartment complex. Their unit is small, but it was in this tiny space that Mao first showed the potential for gymnastics. “She sleeps up there,” her father said, pointing to the top bunk, “and from here, she could just prop herself up and jump on.”

In their tiny apartment, her parents sleep in the smaller room, and the larger, was filled with sewing machines. They both work in the garment processing business, which is a small business with very low margins, because they work on low-end clothing destined for street stalls. In these past two years, business has not been great, and a lot of sewing machines were left collecting dust. From a young age, Mao has understood her parents’ hardships, and from a young age, she has done her best to take some of the load off their shoulders.

“When she was on the provincial team, we had to send her money for every day things like toiletries and a change of clothes. Every month, we’d send her a hundred dollars. It’s not like on the national team, where they give her everything. Occasionally, she’d have to buy something like socks or slippers, and when she went over her budget, she’d say, ‘mom, I went over budget this month, I can’t spend any more money.’ And I’d think…(is it our fault that) she matured too early?”

“Back then, when I was going to Yunnan,” Mao reminisced, with tears in her eyes, “I knew that my family wasn’t doing so well financially, so when the other girls were spending money, I didn’t want to ask my parents for money. Most importantly, I’ve been training for such a long time, but I haven’t had big achievements – unlike some of my teammates in Yunnan, who get bonuses and such.”

“Now that she’s on the national team, she’s earning a salary, and she’s given the bank card to me. She says, ‘mom, I know things are hard at home, just take what you need from my account.’”

“Um…I want to say thank you to mom and dad,” Mao says of her parents. “You’ve been so supportive of me throughout the years. I’ve been training gymnastics for so long (without any notable achievements), but you’ve never given me any pressure. To me, you really are good parents.”

When it comes to what she wants to improve upon, Mao spoke with clarity and confidence. “My main events. For example, on vault, I want to attempt the Amanar, which has a higher difficulty value. For floor, I want to have an incremental increase in difficulty as well, but most importantly, for both events, I want to improve my consistency.”

When olive flowers fill the branches, the time for harvest will have arrived. The diligent flower that is Mao wishes to blossom in Rio.

“I really love this gymnast from Russia, her name is Aliya Mustafina. When I watched her compete, I fell in love with that majestic aura. Everything she does seems very calm and graceful. I feel like she’s just born to be queen. I feel like I have so much to learn from her.”

Video transcribed and translated by 16-233


8 thoughts on “Mao Yi in the Olympic Year

  1. This was so sad. You don’t really get to learn much about the personal lives of these gymnasts and what they give to the sport, but she’s so mature. I really want her in FX finals, and I love how she looks up to not only gymnasts from her country, but from other countries too.


  2. Thank you so, so much for posting this and getting the translation! So moving, and such a valuable insight into Chinese gymnastics.


  3. Mao Yi’s story is actually kind of inspiring for late bloomer athletes. Shang Chunsong has the most depressing story of all the gymnasts competing at the olympics though… to be so fragile, dealing with malnourishment and a consequently diminished frame, growing up in one of China’s poorest areas, constantly trying to help her parents and her visually impaired brother and to just barely miss out every time… It’s not just Shangs story, but her determination and efficient style of gymnastics that makes me root for her to beat the odds stacked against her (in the form of Simone Biles) and win a gold. I think Chunsong has a legitimate chance of winning on beam, but I like her on all three of her main events enough that it won’t matter where she wins, as long as she does. Going back to Mao Yi, is she planning to do the Amanar for the olympics? If so, then I change my mind on her and Tan Jiaxin.


  4. YES, this is fantastic – learning about the Chinese girls so we can root for them even more enthusiastically in Rio! They deserve to have their stories told and their personalities known, like the American, Russian, and British girls (just looking at the team final podium story lines). Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. CCTV also made one for Fan Yilin. Talks about her fall in quals at Chinese Nationals followed by her win in EF. Then it shows her home in Shanghai, where she hasn’t been since she entered the National Team. It was renovated since and she aw it through clips that CCTV took prior to interviewing her. And then it talks about her late mother and her brother, how her family has changed since (her father got re-married to her mother’s best friend…… which I know, it sounds really odd)


  6. It’s really cool to have a history behind those fully concentrated faces. I really enjoy this rather than perfect robotic girls. Really excited that I’ll get to see them live on the Olympics!


  7. Nice footage. I really like Mao, it would be nice if she could hit her floor and an Amanar by Rio. I only wish they had given her an original floor music and coreography to work. I think she’s better than Pang Panpan, but doing the same music and being from the same country kind of doesn’t do justice to her.

    On a side note, I know this is about Mao, but:

    “I really love this gymnast from Russia, her name is Mustafina. When I watched her compete, I fell in love with that majestic aura. Everything she does seems very calm and graceful. I feel like she’s just born to be queen. I feel like I have so much to learn from her.”

    “Born to be queen”, YAAS


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