A Teenager Rises to Stardom

By: Lu Enchun

China Sports, December 1982: A 15-year-old who tood a third spot in the women's all-around and captured the beam title at the 1982 National Gymnastics Championships served noticed that she would make a fine successor to China's women's gymnastics in the years to come.

She is Xiang Yu, a representative of the Hubei provincial team.

Brought up in a sports community - the Wuhan Physical Culture Institute where her parents teach and live - Xiang Yu is energetic and vivacious and began to show her sports talent in early childhood. As a kindergartener she proved herself a clever imitator of gymnastic movements, and at the age of six she was chosen for gymnastics training at the municial spare-time sports school. After five years of painstaking work in the school she was good enough to finish a commendable fourth in the girls' all-around event at the National Junior Gymnastics Tournament, where she learned a great deal form other top performers. Her horizon thus widened, she began to tackle movements with a high degree of difficulty as soon as she returned home from the tourney. Thanks to her excellent physique and nimble mind, it took her just a few workouts to learn to do a somersault on the beam. One day she sprained her ankle and it hurt so badly that she had to limp along. But the 13-year-old girl bore it with a good grace, never ceasing to exercise her upper body while undergoing treatment on her foot. After a couple of weeks, she was back to work on the apparatus again.

In 1981, when she had just turned 14, she donned the national colours and had the chance to emulate top-ranking gymnasts in her own team and from foreign countries. She was particularly inspired by Ma Yanhong's success in capturing the world title, and she made up her mind to follow her example.

She kept her promise when she made her maiden appearance at the annual national championships this year. Ignoring strong pressure from veteran competitors, she gave the best of herself in doing every exercise from event to event. Her points soared steadily and eventually lifted her to third place in the all-around competition - only 0.425 points behind Ma Yanhong and 0.225 behind Zhu Zheng. But in the beam finals she outperformed the two world-renowned stars to take the crown.

"I'm quite happy about the results I've achieved in the championships," she said to her congratulators. "But I can't be content with them. There's still a lot to do to catch up with the world's best."