I Love Gymnastics

By Liu Ya-chun
Student at Peking's West City Junior Spare-time Sports School

China Reconstructs, December 1973   I'm 13 and a member of the Peking gymnastics team.  At the national games last September I won first place in the women's individual all-round event and in three individual events for seniors -- the uneven bars, balance beam and free exercise.  This was because of what I'd learned from gymnasts from different parts of the country when we exchanged experience, and the help and encouragement they gave me.

In 1971 when I was in the third grade at the Hsinhsing Middle Lane Primary School a gymnastic team was set up there.  What great fun it must be, I thought as I watched the members do somersaults, splits, bridges and handstands.  I tried to do them but didn't have the strength.  I just couldn't do the backward walkover well.  I practiced and practiced on the sand heap and at night on the bed.  One day the athletics teacher asked me if I wanted to join the school's team.  I jumped at the chance.

That year the team took part in the Peking west city district gymnastics contest.  Afterward the coach at the district spare-time sports school for juniors asked if I wanted to study there.  This was a school where they gave special training to young athletes and I was terribly excited.

My mother and father were also very happy about it.  "Work hard and study well, Ya-chun," my father said.  "In the old society a worker like me couldn't even afford to send his children to school.  I've never heard of gymnastics.  It's only in the new society that you have such advantages."  I attended classes at the spare-time school form 4-7 p.m. five days a week.  There were four classes in gymnastics.  The one I was in had 12 children about my own age from schools in the district.

The first day our coach explained to us that learning gymnastics, too, is answering Chairman Mao's call to "promote physical culture and sports and build up the people's health" and that we should prepare ourselves to carry on and develop this sport.  In our own schools we were urged to help our schoolmates in sports activities and work together to improve our physical fitness.  After I saw that learning gymnastics was not just for fun but has a deep meaning I was even more eager.

When we began formal training I realized that it would take lots of hard work to become a good gymnast.  Our coach told us again and again that as Little Red Guards we should not be afraid of difficulties or failures, but should keep practicing until we could do a movement right.

I had never been very strong, so I made it my first object to improve my physique.  While we were learning the front somersault on the balance beam the coach told us to practice on a low beam first.  I thought I should have the courage to start on the balance beam right away and the coach agreed.  I took a deep breath, leaped in the air for the salto and landed with both feet firmly on the beam.

It wasn't all clear sailing, though.  Once when I made a reverse grasp on the uneven bars, I missed and fell and broke my left arm.  It was a lacerated fracture of the elbow.  I had to rest with my arm in a plaster cast.  This was a big blow.  Then I thought of the stories I had heard about how the People's Liberation Army soldiers went on fighting even when they were wounded, so I began joining the others in light exercises.

I watched them practice and tried to understand exactly why I had missed and fallen.  I felt it was because my upper arm muscles were weak.  After the cast was removed I increased the exercise of my arms, including lifting the barbell.  My arms became stronger and I also improved my technique.

In preparation for the Third National Games the sports school wanted me to learn some more difficult movements -- the stretched somersault with double body twist in the free exercise, a backward walkover followed by two successive flip-flops landing on one foot, and a dismount with a back somersault after a bounce away from the high bar.  The school's political instructor and coach told us stories about Cheng Feng-jung, who broke the women's high jump record, and Ni Chih-chin, who did the same in the men's high jump -- how they practiced hard to win honor for the motherland.

I may be young, but I also want to do well and do my part to raise the gymnastic level of our country.  I should try to have the revolutionary daring of the older athletes.  I practiced and practiced, sometimes doing one movement hundreds or maybe up to a thousand times.  My wrists got bruised, but I bandaged them and kept on.  After about six months I finally mastered these movements.

At the sports school professional dancers gave us lessons to help us improve our dance movement in the free exercise.  We also had a chance to watch outstanding Chinese and foreign gymnasts train and give exhibition performances.  Through primary school and the sports school I got an all-round education.  Our teachers and coaches constantly urged us to be "three good" pupils -- to have good health and be good in our studies and at work, as Chairman Mao wants us to be.  They checked our homework and supervised our studies.  When our class went to do farm work in the people's communes in the suburbs we performed for the commune members.  Because of the strict demands made on us, I worked and studied hard and was cited a "three good" pupil in my school.

Before the Third National Games I had already been in some important competitions.  I was chosen to participate in the gymnastics contest of the International Middle School Games held in Wiesbaden, Federal Republic of Germany, in August 1974.  There I got the third highest individual total in the women's team competition and won first place in the individual all-round event.  At China's national gymnastics meet last May I was winner of the women's all-round event.

I feel that I was able to do well because the Communist Party and the people made it possible.  Our final aim, though, is not records and titles, but to do our part in developing sports in our country, to serve the people and to carry on the cause of the revolution.

I gained a better understanding of this point at the Third National Games.  The individual all-round finals in the uneven bars and the vaulting horse were held at the open-air stadium in Tunghsien county east of Peking.  It was a clear day but windy.  We had to buck the wind in the horse vaulting, and on the uneven bars the sun was constantly in my eyes -- quite different from doing these in an indoor stadium.  Performing for the workers, peasants and soldiers is our way of serving the people, I told myself, so I tried to do every movement well.  When I heard the enthusiastic applause I realized that the people expected great things from us young athletes.  I was glad I had tried hard.

I know I still have a lot of weak points to overcome and I'm resolved to go on practicing and making progress.

This page was created on April 15, 2005.
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