20-year-old Shang Chunsong finished fourth in the all-around and fifth on bars at this year’s Olympic Games. Her teammate Wang Yan, just 16, had an incredible week with no major mistakes, but still didn’t earn a medal, finishing sixth all-around, fifth on vault, and fifth on floor. Reigning world uneven bars champion Fan Yilin, also 16, was sixth on beam but missed the bars final by less than half a tenth.
But the girls — all first-timers at the Olympic Games — were satisfied with their results.
“I wasn’t nervous at all today, because I know there is a large gap in scoring potential between myself and the rest of the field,” Shang said following the bars final. “I didn’t even think about the result. I was very relaxed.”
After the final, Shang closed the chapter on her journey in Rio. Looking back, she said besides being unsatisfied with the bronze in the team final and regretting her own mistakes, she was happy with everything else.
“It’s not about getting a gold medal. It’s about getting any individual medal. My goal has been to have my photo on the Wall of Champions in the national team training center, but I know that I lack in skills compared to others, so I really don’t want to set any lofty goals. I never even thought about getting an Olympic gold. Winning at a world championships would be good enough for me.”
Besides team finals and bars, Shang also competed in the all-around final in Rio, ending up one spot away from the podium. When the competition was over, Shang broke down in tears.
“I wasn’t satisfied with myself nor with the result, because it was just so close. I wouldn’t be so devastated if the scores were further apart.”
While she was heartbroken by the results, her best Olympic memory came during the all-around final. As she cried, Marine Brevet of France came over, hugged her, and kissed her forehead to comfort her.
“Compared to the bronze that I’ve always wanted, I think I treasure the friendship more. Because we’ve only met once, so for her to come over with this gesture of kindness, it really warmed my heart.”
As simple as her wishes were for the Games, her other wishes are simple as well. Now that the competitions are over, what is the one thing she wants to do most?
“I want to go home to Zhangjiajie, to see my family,” she answered. Since earning a spot on the national team six years ago, Shang has only been back to Changsha once, for only two days.
In Changsha, she paid the deposit for an apartment for her blind brother, and she also wants to give her Olympic reward money to her parents.
“I really want them to spend the money I earned,” she said. “We are doing pretty well financially now, but they are still very frugal with themselves. Even if they spent all of it, when they earn it back they will return it to me anyway. They are just too polite with me.”
To Shang, her family is about motivation, not pressure.
“Sending me to gymnastics coaches when I was young wasn’t cheap,” Shang explained. “My family had to go around and borrow money. My brother gave up school for me, so that he could work and support me. I believe I will one day be on the Wall of Champions, and I will keep working hard for that.”
With her own Olympic experience over with the bars final, Shang cheered on teammates Wang and Fan during the last two days of apparatus finals, encouraging them and helping them enjoy the process.
“For me, now I just want to eat Chinese food. Any dish, as long as it’s Chinese food. Even instant noodles!”
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