Chinese national artistic gymnastics team targets better performances at Paris Olympic Games
en.hangzhou.com.cn   2024-07-03 16:47   Source: Global Times

Editor's Note:

The Chinese national gymnastics team, one of China's "dream teams" in the Olympic Games, unveiled the squad for the Paris Olympics in mid-June, with 10 athletes and seven reserves competing in artistic gymnastics. 

The team finished the Tokyo Olympics with three gold, three silver and two bronze medals, bouncing back from a lackluster performance at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, when they earned only one silver and one bronze medal.

Building on their performance at the Tokyo Olympics three years ago, the team is determined to surpass their previous achievements. 

However, at the most recent World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in 2023, the Chinese team won only two gold, three silver and two bronze medals. But none of these gold medals came from the event which is traditionally considered the most important for the national team. 

In this installment of the Road to Paris series, Global Times reporter Lu Wenao offers insight into the Chinese artistic gymnastics squad that bears China's gold medal hopes.

As the team events in the men's and women's competition test the full squad depth of a country's artistic gymnastics, the Chinese team always prioritizes the team championship as their most important goal in major competitions.

Lu Bin, a deputy team leader of the national artistic gymnastics team, said during an opening training session on June 28 that the goal of the national team is to perform better than at the Tokyo Olympics. 

"At least we should not perform worse than then," Lu told reporters. 

Men's team aims higher

The men's team, strengthened by the emergence of all-around gymnast Zhang Boheng, aims for gold in the team event, while the women's team targets a podium finish, with hopes of clinching titles in the balance beam and uneven bars.

The last time the Chinese men's team won the team gold at the Olympics was at the 2012 London Olympics. At the Rio and Tokyo Olympics, the team won bronze medals. 

Although team captain Xiao Ruoteng remains in good form, especially after a stellar performance at the Hangzhou Asian Games in 2023, he has been overshadowed by younger teammate and all-around gymnast Zhang Boheng.

Xiao, who is set for his second Olympics, has spoken about the intense training phase in which the team is currently engaged. 

"The recent training has reached a critical stage, and everyone is pushing hard. The entire team is simulating competition scenarios and engaging in intense routine training," Xiao told reporters recently. 

"Our goal is, of course, the gold medal. The lineup of the Chinese men's team is not much different from the Tokyo Olympics, and our experience is one of our advantages."

Zhang, who narrowly missed the Tokyo Olympics lineup, demonstrated his potential and talent in the all-around events, leading to his selection over Lin Chaopan, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist with the men's team. 

Zhang's prowess was evident when he defeated the Tokyo Olympics all-around champion, Japan's Daiki Hashimoto, to win the world championship in 2021. Since then, the rivalry between Zhang and Hashimoto has been a central theme in major competitions.

Zhang's rise has undoubtedly bolstered the overall strength of the Chinese team in the team event. However, an injury to Zhang's lower back during training after the Asian Games hampered his performance in the winter training season and the 2024 national championships. 

"Zhang is still affected by his injury, but he is trying his best to keep up with the team's pace," Lu said.

The individual all-around event is expected to see another round of intense competition between Zhang and Hashimoto, with the former eager to cement his role in Paris after three years of preparation and training.

The squad depth of the men's team also indicates the athletes' prospects in certain individual events. Parallel bars, rings and the all-around are key areas in which they aim to win gold. 

Zou Jingyuan, the reigning Olympic champion in parallel bars, has consistently performed at a high level, with his techniques being regarded as textbook examples. He emphasized the importance of individual performance in the team event.

"In gymnastics, it's often about competing with yourself. The key to winning in the team event is to perform our routines well," Zou said. "My goal for the parallel bars is definitely the gold medal. It's about sticking to daily training and delivering on the competition floor."

He also highlighted the importance of focusing on their own performance, especially in the face of strong competition from Japan. "The Japanese men's team has high difficulty routines, good execution and a high success rate. We still need to focus on ourselves, do our best, and not let down our efforts throughout this long preparation time," Zou said.

Liu Yang, the Olympic champion in still rings, aims to defend his title. He is also determined to contribute to the team's success. 

"All of us are aiming for the team championship, which is the motivation for me to keep training," Liu said. "I want to win the team gold first and then focus on the individual events."

He acknowledged that he is not in his best form yet, but he is confident in his preparation and hopes to peak at the right time during the Olympics.

Women's team seeks podium finishes

Compared with the male athletes' six-medal winning performances at the Tokyo Olympics, the Chinese female artistic gymnasts won only one gold and one silver medal in balance beam and even these were attained by now retired Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing. 

However, with the development and progress of young talents like 17-year-old Qiu Qiyuan and 19-year-old Zhou Yaqin, the team's overall strength has improved, bringing strong gold medal prospects in the uneven bars and balance beam. 

Qiu showed her outstanding skills and mature mentality through her performance at her maiden world championship appearance in 2023, winning the uneven bars. Her fourth-place finish in the individual all-around at 2023's worlds also gave her a significant confidence boost and motivation in the sport.

First-time Olympian Qiu Qiyuan is focused on perfecting her routines. 

"My goal is to stand on the highest podium, raise the national flag, and play the national anthem in Paris," she said. 

"The Olympics come once every four years, so the opportunity is precious. The key is to stay calm and perform steadily."

Qiu's main competitor in uneven bars at the Paris Olympics is likely to be Algeria's Kaylia Nemour, who boasts multiple titles in this year's gymnastics World Cup series. 

"I think she [Nemour] is a respectable opponent with impressive and challenging routines, but I am confident that I can beat her again," Qiu said. 

Zhou is another key contender for gold in the women's balance beam. She won the silver medal in the balance beam at the 2023 worlds, coming in second to 23-time world champion Simone Biles of the US. However, Zhou is optimistic about her chances this time. 

"Biles' balance beam routine is very clean, but I believe I have a chance to beat her. I need to improve the stability and quality of my routine," Zhou told reporters at the training session.

A realistic goal for the women's team in the team event is to return to the world top tier. But this is no easy task, as the Biles-led US team has dominated the team event in recent major international competitions.

Zhou highlighted the women's team's primary objective of winning a team medal. 

"Our main goal is to fight for a podium finish in the women's team event. Everyone is working hard to achieve this," Zhou told reporters. 

"Recently, I've been focusing on improving the quality of my floor exercises, the stability and execution of my balance beam routines, and enhancing my vault and uneven bars skills. I hope to be ready to step up whenever the team needs me. 

Chinese female gymnastics veterans such as Ou Yushan and Luo Huan provide assurance to the team. Born in 2000 and known for her versatility across all four events, Luo has become the eldest member of the squad. Meanwhile, Ou, with her experiences gained from the Tokyo Olympics, is the most seasoned competitor on the team. 

The Chinese men's team is set to leave for Paris on July 17, with the women's team following a day later, as the artistic gymnastics competitions run from July 27 to August 5. Upon arrival, they will undergo a brief training camp in a small town 300 kilometers from Paris to acclimate and adjust their routines before moving into the Olympic Village in Paris.

Author:   Editor: Ye Lijiao