Liu Tingting, 16, is one to watch at this weekend’s Chinese national championships. Photo thanks to Simone Alexander.
While several of the top Chinese gymnasts have gotten their feet wet at competitions like the world cup events this year, this weekend will give us our first look at the program as a whole as the federation hosts the 2017 national championships in Wuhan.
Every member of China’s 2016 Olympic team will compete at nationals, though due to some recent injuries to both Shang Chunsong and Wang Yan at different world cup events, we have yet to see where the difficulty will be for each gymnast, as well as who will be prepared to do the all-around.
Wang reportedly looked great in training, and was all smiles while her coach pinched her cheeks after finishing up a routine, so I’m hoping this means good things going into the competition. In Melbourne and Doha, she was back on both vault and floor, and while her vaults — still at her peak difficulty with a Rudi and tsuk double — looked mostly great, she sustained minor injuries on floor at both competitions, in warm-ups for finals in Melbourne and in qualifications in Doha, and it’s unclear how things are coming along for her on bars and beam.
In addition to Shang and Wang, we’ll also see the returns of Mao Yi and Fan Yilin, neither of whom has competed since Rio. I’ve heard Tan Jiaxin is also expected to compete, though I haven’t seen her in any training photos so I’m not sure what her status is and will update if I find out.
Olympians aside, my bet is on Liu Tingting coming out as the one to watch this year. After missing out on the Olympics due to a late-in-the-game injury sustained on bars, Liu seemed to have come back better than ever. I remember her coach, immediately following the injury, talked about how they all assumed she’d be super depressed about missing the Games, but she surprised them with how resilient she was, keeping her spirits high and not letting it mentally rattle her.
When she returned this year, on all events but vault at the Melbourne and Doha world cups, Liu looked better than ever, winning four gold medals and one bronze between the two meets (a fall in the bars final in Doha kept her from medaling there, though she still placed fourth). Her beam is especially delightful, comprised of seventeen skills done in quick, fluid connection to get her to a D score of 6.2, the highest in the world at the moment, making her the heavy favorite on that event in Wuhan.
It’s been over a year since Liu has competed all-around, with her bronze medal finish at last year’s nationals the last time we saw her vault, but with some of the highest scores in the world so far this year on her other three events, she wouldn’t really need much on vault to come in as the top contender for the all-around title. She had kind of a scary hit-or-miss Yurchenko double last year, but I think this year she could pull it off with a nice clean full.
Olympic alternate Luo Huan is another one to keep an eye on. Luo was on the world cup circuit with Liu earlier this season, competing bars and beam and medaling in three out of four finals, placing fourth on beam in Melbourne after a fall. She doesn’t look as polished as Liu at the moment, but she’s doing some fabulous work on bars and has a unique and fast-paced beam of her own, so I’m excited to see what she can do back in an all-around setting.
The competition begins for the men on May 5 followed by the women on May 6, with both days acting as team finals as well as qualifications for individual event finals. The men’s and women’s all-around competitions will take place on May 7 at 3 pm local time for MAG and 8 pm for WAG, and event finals will be held on May 8-9, beginning at 3 pm each day (Wuhan is 12 hours ahead of ET).
CCTV will stream the competition, which you can try to watch here or here, and as always, you can watch many videos — including some from training up now! — on Piibunina’s Youku account. In addition, we’ll keep you updated throughout the competition with results, news, and reports.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
Photo by Simone Alexander