A Gymnastics Hopeful

By Yun Xin

China Sports, 1991   With the retirement of veteran gymnasts Chen Cuiting and Fan Di after the 11th Asian Games last year, the Chinese women's gymnastics team had some new blood infused into it.  A number of promising youngsters had gradually matured, among them Li Li and Li Yifang attracted the most attention.

Though her name is still not very familiar to most people, Li Li is now a top gymnast on the national team.  Making her debut at the 1990 Eighth World Cup Gymnastics Tournament, she astounded the spectators with her high-caliber performance.  A total of four newly-created world-class value parts were performed for the first time at that tournament, and she accounted for three, namely in the uneven bars and the balance beam.

"Li Li is a technically all-around gymnast and is especially good at the uneven bars," commented coach Lu Shanzhen on the national women's gymnastics team.  "At present, she could be said to be peerless in the world; but of course our gymnasts have been traditionally strong in this event."

Born to a worker's family in Xingning County in south China's Guangdong Province in 1975, Li Li started regular training at six, first in a gymnastics class in the Guangdong Provincial Stadium, and then in the provincial gymnastics team.  She donned the national colors in 1987.

This sounds as if promotion was hers for the asking.  But she thinks otherwise.

"The odds were not in my favor at the beginning," she said.  "For at that time the one chosen for training at the provincial stadium gymnastics class was not me but another girl.  I was just a substitute, but later that girl had an arm injury, and it was after I had proved my worth that I became a regular member of the class."

She recalled she was not the only lucky one.  The well-known woman gymnast Wu Jiani was also a substitute before she became a regular member of the national team.  So was their teammate Zhu Zheng.  Their experience both gave her consolation and encouraged her to train hard in order to achieve success.

When she first joined the national team, her coach Lu Shanzhen worked out a special program to strengthen her physique.  Following that was persistent training in basic skills.  It was not until 1989 that the coach designed a few value parts for her, including "Steinemann stemme backward and stemme followed by Tkachev" on the uneven bars and "revolving on back with 1 1/4 turns" on the balance beam.  To concentrate her efforts on mastering these new movements, she stayed away from practically all domestic and international competitions, and took part only once in a national tournament in which she won a gold in the floor exercise.

In 1990 she began to appear in major international competitions. At the Eighth World Cup she clinched a silver medal in the balance beam event, and at the 11th Asian Games she cooperated with her teammates in winning the team title.

Small in stature but agile in her movements, Li Li is a favorite among her coaches and teammates.  Like other girls of her age, she loves to collect toys, play electronic games and see animated cartoons on TV.  She is always looking forward to Sundays, for on that day she can have a thorough rest and does not have to worry about morning exercises and technical training.

The 26th World Gymnastics Championships and the 25th Olympic Games are not far away.  To Li Li, these are golden opportunities to show her prowess after the retirement of several veterans.  Experts are of the opinion that she is a strong contender for the uneven bars title, and she might be the third Chinese gymnast to win the world title in this event after Ma Yanhong and Fan Di.

This page was created on March 31, 2001.
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