Gymnastics - A Popular Sport

China Reconstructs, April 1973   All eyes in the stands were fixed on a member of the National Gymnastic Team.  After a fast straight body circle on the horizontal bar, like a seagull soaring in the wind, he flew into the air with a backward stretched somersault with double body twist.  In a twinkling he landed firmly on the floor amidst enthusiastic applause from the spectators.

He was followed by a woman gymnast performing free exercises to piano accompaniment.  She demonstrated a series of technically difficult movements with the grace of a dancer.  Sometimes a handspring followed by a flip-flop and backward stretched somersault with full twist, sometimes several handsprings and flip-flops followed by a backward stretched somersault to come down poised on one foot.  She had incorporated into her free exercises some of the movements characteristic of the dances of Sinkiang.  The music, a national minority tune from Sinkiang, with its dancing rhythm was perfectly suited to the gymnastic movement.  Among the gymnasts were also a number of very young girls whose difficult routines on the balance beam showed they had good training.

China's National Gymnastic Team is composed of outstanding amateurs, chosen from people in every field of work, including workers, students and soldiers.  Among them are veteran gymnasts like Liao Jun-tien, Wang Wei-chien and Chiang Shao-yi, who had taken part in many international contests, and newcomers like Tsai Huan-tsung and Ning Hsiao-lin, who began training during the cultural revolution.  Quite a number of both adults and juniors are from the Uighur, Chuang and other minority nationalities.

In the short-term training courses they have taken, they have used their time well to help each other, so that the whole group progresses together.  Through this collective knowledge and strength the gymnasts have made some bold innovations in their sport and are training seriously in order to raise the standard of gymnastics in China and win honor for their socialist motherland.

Before liberation Ting Chao-fang from Anhwei province, an orphan, wandered the streets with her uncle, a folk singer.  After liberation the people's government cured her of the schistosomiasis from which she had suffered since she was two, and sent her to school.  There she took a liking to sports.  During training she practiced hard and made strict demands on herself.  Though she was not very good on the high-low bars, she worked on them daily so that she could become proficient in all items of the four-event competition.  With the help of coaches and other gymnasts she finally overcame this lack.  Later she was chosen a member of the National Gymnastic Team.  In the national meet last year she was second in the women's four-event total.

Because Tsai Huan-tsung is especially agile, his coaches designed a new routine on the parallel bars for him.  It called for a somersault with half-twist in the 50-centimeter space between the bars and a shoulder stand on the bars.  While doing it himself on the bars, coach Su Shih-yao studied ways in which accidents could be prevented.  As Tsai practiced, there were always other members of the team standing by in case he needed assistance, and to help him master the movements.  His good basic technique and bold creative spirit, coupled with the help of his comrades, enabled him to finally perfect it.

Before liberation gymnastics as a sport was practically non-existent in China.  In the decades of Kuomintang rule only one "national meet" was held, with just eight participants.  Since liberation the people's government has promoted gymnastics.  It is one of the items in physical training classes in middle schools and colleges.  Quite a few of them have gymnastic teams with their own special teacher.  Horizontal bars, parallel bars, boxes, vaulting horses, flying rings and mats are part of the sports equipment in many schools.  Simple gymnastics equipment is also becoming more widely available in factories and communes.  Some worker of commune member sports enthusiasts make the equipment themselves.

Gymnastics is now taught in most of the spare-time sports schools for children and young people which now exist throughout the country.  They receive training for a few months, or up to two or three years.  The school at Shihchahai in Peking trains 150 gymnasts a year from middle schools in its vicinity.  Such schools have become the cradle of the new gymnastic sport in China.  Most of China's outstanding gymnasts were trained in them.  They include Yu Lieh-feng, former national title-holder in the men's six-event total and winner of some of the individual events; Wang Wei-chien, who holds the same titles in the women's events; the outstanding gymnast Yin Hsi-nan, and Yang Ming-ming, men's all-round champion in 1972.

The gymnasts often go to factories, communes and army units throughout the country, including those in outlying regions, to give demonstrations and popularize the sport.  In 1971, for example, a number of them made a demonstration tour of Yun-nan and Kweichow provinces and the Kwangsi Chuang Autonomous Region.  Others put considerable effort into coaching the young contestants at the junior national gymnastics competition held in Shanghai in 1972.

As a way of promoting the sport, national competitions have generally been held every year and sometimes twice a year.  Between 1953 and 1972 there were over 20 such competitions.  The 1972 meet has 28 teams and a total of over 500 gymnasts participating.  Through reviewing the level of achievement, exchange of experience and selection of new blood, such contests contribute to raising the level of gymnastics in China.

This page was created on April 15, 2005.
Gymn Forum