First-year senior Liu Tingting has unfortunately suffered a hand injury while training a pak salto on the uneven bars and was forced to withdraw from China’s Olympic team, returning to her provincial team in Guangdong.
“It was this Monday,” her coach, Coach Xu, told the press. “She was practicing her bars routine, everything was great, and then suddenly, she just fell. That night, she came to me. I hugged her and said, ‘You can cry. You’ll feel better if you let yourself cry.’ I held her and we cried together. I told her, ‘Tingting, you are still young. You have the opportunity to prepare for the next Olympic Games. Coach Xu will always be with you.’ Young kids are always more resilient than you’d expect, and she’s doing better in recent days.”
Tan Jiaxin, 19, has been one of this quad’s unsung heroes on China’s world teams and will step in for Liu in Rio alongside Shang Chunsong, Wang Yan, Mao Yi, and Fan Yilin. Liu Jinru has been bumped up to first alternate.
Tan herself has been dealing with an elbow injury that took her out of training for a week, and when she returned, she had two falls on bars during the internal test. The extent of her injury is also unclear, as is whether she’ll be able to compete the Amanar she was hoping to add to her program this year.
The other issue with Tan stepping in could be beam. Liu was expected to put up a great number there, but without her routine there will be a bit of a scramble. Tan doesn’t train or compete the event, Mao struggles to put up strong numbers and will likely finish in the 13s on a good day, and while Wang has a strong routine, she has been incredibly inconsistent there this year, leaving the team a bit stuck in the team final with only Shang and Fan capable of solid routines.
At full strength, the Chinese team counts such great difficulty, they seemed like they might actually cut down the U.S. team’s lead by quite a bit this summer. But now with these team struggles, while they should still come in strong for at least the silver, consistency will be key to seeing them make this happen.
Thanks to our friend over at Coach Lu Told Me To Be Consistent, we have some insight into how the coaches think their girls are doing in their preparation for the Olympic Games.
“I feel Shang has made improvements when it comes to the mental aspect of the sport,” coach Zhang Xia told the press at an event at the Beijing Training Center. “In 2012, Shang was just preparing for the selection process with her older teammates, and now, she’s one of our main competitors. She’s grown a lot and has been very consistent in training. If she can stay at her current level of preparedness, that will be enough.”
Zhang coached Deng Linlin and Jiang Yuyuan to gold medals in the previous two Olympic Games, and this year has both Shang and Tan on the team. “In my third time preparing for the Olympics, I am very clear about what I should be doing and when.”
Coach Wang Qunce lost his temper with Mao at the media training session, angrily picking up a chair and throwing it on the ground while Mao stood silently at his side. “Her execution was probably terrible,” Coach Xu said quietly on the side.
A few minutes later, coach Wang had collected himself, picking up the chair from the ground and sitting down for his interview, analyzing each of his gymnasts’ current levels of preparedness.
“Wang’s vault, beam, and floor have improved greatly. Her consistency certainly will be improved compared to at last year’s world championships. After changing Fan’s bars dismount, she has been doing better and if she keeps it consistent, she can reduce the deductions in her routine. Fan also has made improvements on beam. We had some slight changes to Mao’s floor routine, and our next step is to make sure she peaks at the right time.”
Coach Wang also spoke about a gymnast on his mind who will not be at the Olympic Games this summer – Yao Jinnan.
“Nannan unable to make Rio is one of the biggest blows in my coaching career,” Wang said. “I’ve trained her for seven years with so many ups and downs. Sometimes she would experience inexplicable pain. This child has her stubbornness, but during training, she put forth her best effort every single day. However, the tricky recovery from her shoulder injury and subsequent surgery led her to defeat in the selection process. Life truly hasn’t been easy for her, but even though she failed to be selected for the Games, she is still perfect in my eyes.”
When coaches Wang and Xu got the news that Yao didn’t make the team, coach Xu started crying but Wang didn’t.
“Even though I managed not to cry, my eyes were surely red,” he told the press. “The gymnasts from our team, any one of them unable to make their goals would make me sad. Besides Nannan, I was also sad for Huang Huidan. I was thinking, maybe I’m too old now, and getting too sentimental. Perhaps it is time to retire. I want to be like an evergreen, but the passage of time is a cruel thing. A lot of coaching is hands-on, and sometimes I really feel my body cannot do what my heart wants.”
Article by Lauren Hopkins
Translations and insight thanks to Coach Lu Told Me To Be Consistent