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Written by Lisa Wang    Saturday, 17 February 2007 19:35    PDF Print
Chinese Get New Year Break
(2 votes, average 4.50 out of 5)
The Chinese national gymnastics team's celebrations for Sunday's Chinese New Year included a national talent gala, reunions with family members and a rare training break.

Although the team is in the midst of its winter training period—typically the busiest time each year during which new skills are invented, routines are re-choreographed, and young talents are groomed for international competition—the gymnasts are enjoying a break in celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year, which began Sunday. The gymnasts are given one to one-and-a-half days off, in addition to the usual Sunday break. (They normally train six days a week throughout the year, getting only Sundays off as their day of rest and just half a day break on Jan. 1.)

The Chinese gymnasts also enjoyed planning and performing in the annual Chinese New Year Gala, an elaborate talent show where artistic and rhythmic gymnasts put together skits, song and dance. The show is frequently broadcasted on national television, and over the years has been attended by a number of celebrities from the Chinese entertainment industry.

This year's gala, held Feb. 16, featured 2006 World Championships triple gold medalist Cheng Fei and 2006 men's world all-around champion Yang Wei as the masters of ceremonies. Former national team member Sang Lan, who was paralyzed during a vault accident at the 1998 Goodwill Games, also made a special guest appearance on stage.

Since gymnasts hail from all over the country, only those from Beijing (such as 2004 Olympic all-around bronze medalist Zhang Nan and 2004 Olympic pommel horse champion Teng Haibin) returned home for a Chinese New Year celebration with their family. Some gymnasts have parents who travel to Beijing for the special occasion. For many gymnasts whose hometown is farther away, the New Year's Eve dinner is often spent at the home of their coaches, who take in their pupils alongside their own family members for the special meal. Cheng, He Ning and Zhou Zhuoru ushered in the New Year at the home of Lu Shanzhen, the head coach of the women's team.

The Lunar New Year celebration brought Yang's parents and sister from Hubei to Beijing, a rare family gathering for the gymnast who has been training in Beijing for more than 10 years. Yang, second all-around at the 2000 Olympics and 2003 Worlds, reflected on realizing his dream of winning the world all-around title last fall.

"Realistically, I know my achievements in 2006 are hard to surpass; they do epitomize a type of pinnacle for me," Yang said. "But my goals for the next two years are to take things one step at a time. Of course the 2008 Beijing Olympics is the ultimate goal, for me as it is for my teammates, but right now I'm focusing on the 2007 Worlds and this year's training. I don't like to overthink the next step too much, or to predict precisely which titles I ought to win in the future."

Aside from training, Yang is also working towards his post-graduate degree in sports management through a series of online courses geared to professional athletes.

In other training news, Cheng is beginning to work on a new vault, and Li Ya is stabilizing her 7.5 Start Value routine on uneven bars and possibly working more skills to boost the Start Value.

International Gymnast Magazine Related Features

He Ning center poster (January/February 2007)
Chinese women's and men's teams on cover, Yang Wei center poster, 2006 World Championships special issue (December 2006)
Zhou Zhuoru center poster, "Quick Chat: Cheng Fei" (May 2006)
"Lucky Charm" - Cheng cover story (January 2005)
"The Spirit Moves Her" - Sang interview (January 1999)

Written by Amanda Turner    Thursday, 15 February 2007 19:36    PDF Print
Liukin on the Mend
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)
Three months after surgery on her ankle, U.S. champion Nastia Liukin says she is on the right track for the 2007 season.

"I'm still doing a lot of therapy and rehab but I'm definitely back on the road to recovery," Liukin told IG.

Nastia Liukin

Liukin severely sprained her right ankle in October while training for the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. The injury limited her to the uneven bars in Aarhus, where she won silver medals with the team and on bars.

Liukin, who turned 17 on Oct. 30, had surgery in November to remove two bone chips from her ankle. She is back in the gym at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Plano, Texas, where she is coached by her father, world and Olympic gold medalist Valery Liukin.

"[I'm doing] everything on bars and almost everything on beam, tumbling on the tumble track, running, a lot of conditioning and therapy," she said of her progress.

Liukin said changes are likely in store for her routines, including reordering her skills on bars and and tumbling passes on floor.

"But we really haven't really sat down and wrote out (new routines) because it's so early right know, it's kind of hard to say," she said.

Liukin said they will start to plan her return to competition after the next national team training camp, to be held at the end of February. Though she was recently featured in Newsweek Magazine as America's top Olympic gymnastics hopeful for Beijing, she said she prefers to concentrate on short-term goals.

"(I'm not thinking about the Olympics) any more than usual," she said. "There's basically a full two years (to go), plus worlds this year. I'm really not even looking toward the Olympics right now."

At the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne, Liukin won gold medals on uneven bars and balance beam and silver medals in the all-around and on floor exercise. She said she is over the disappointment of being injured at the 2006 World Championships.

"It was definitly hard watching the all-around finals and knowing I could have been there competing, but things happen and you can't go back and change anything," she said.

Audio Download: Hear Nastia's answer to the question: "Are the judges too strict about taking deductions for pirouettes on uneven bars?"

Written by John Crumlish    Tuesday, 13 February 2007 19:21    PDF Print
Chinese Legends Make Long-Distance Marriage Work
In recognition of Valentine's Day, IG Online features Olympic medal-winning gymnastics couple Li Yuejiu and Wu Jiani of China. Li and Wu, married for 21 years, are making their intercontinental marriage work.
Wu and Li

"I support what he does," says the Illinois-based Wu of husband Li, who since December 2004 has been working as a coordinator for the Chinese national team in Beijing. "He's really happy what he's doing, and he feels he can do something for the Chinese as an American citizen. The Chinese coaches asked him to help out with our country, and he really wanted to support the Chinese team."

Wu and Li, who ended their competitive careers at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, have been married since 1986. Li accepted a men's coaching position in Canada in 1985, where Wu joined him after their wedding. In 1987 they moved to Las Vegas, and began coaching women's gymnastics together.

For the past five years, home has been the Chicago area, where Wu still coaches at the Aerials Gymnastics Club in Downers Grove. Among the gymnasts they produced is daughter Anna, a former elite who now competes for UCLA. They also have a daughter Andrea, age 5.

Wu says she and Li are together approximately four times per year, for a period of two or three weeks each time. Last fall she enjoyed an extra visit with him, by traveling to the World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, where he was part of the Chinese delegation. The Li family was last together for the 2006 Christmas holidays.

Wu admits that coaching and everyday life are more difficult with Li so far away.

"It is harder without him," Wu says. "Not coaching with him was hard, especially the first year when Anna was still in the elite program. We always talked to each other and made decisions together, and now I had to do it on my own. I also have to look after the house and fix the car on my own, which I didn't have to do before."

To stay connected, Wu and Li spend time together every day via webcam. The couple meets online after Wu gets home from work, at around 10 p.m. That is noon in Beijing, when Li has a two-hour break after the Chinese team's morning training session.

"It helps a lot, because my little one likes to see Daddy every day," Wu says.

Wu Jiani

A native of Shanghai, Wu helped the Chinese women win their first World Championships team medal, a silver at the 1981 Worlds in Moscow. She also tied for the bronze medal on balance beam, where she performed a back dive across the beam to hip circle around the beam. Although Wu was the first gymnast to perform this trick in World Championships competition, it was later named the "Yurchenko loop" in recognition of Soviet gymnast Natalia Yurchenko. (Wu, who first performed it in 1980, says Chinese officials did not usually submit original tricks for recognition at the time.)

Wu placed ninth all-around, second on balance beam and fourth (tie) on floor exercise at the 1982 World Cup in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. She won the all-around title at the 1982 Chunichi Cup in Nagoya, Japan. At the 1983 World Championships in Budapest, Wu was a member of China's fifth-place team. She ended her career at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, where she won a team bronze medal.

In addition to her balance beam skill, Wu performed an original trick on uneven bars: the "Wu" (facing the high bar, beat uprise to straddle vault over the high bar, catch in eagle grip, straddle back to the low bar). Her dismount was a back hip circle to hecht back salto off the high bar.

Li, who hails from Liaoning, earned the nickname "Thunder Thighs" for his powerful tumbling legs. On floor exercise, his skills included a tucked double-twisting double back, and a straddled side 1-3/4 somersault. He dismounted high bar with a triple back.

At the 1979 World Championships in Fort Worth, Li was 13th all-around and tied for sixth on floor exercise. He and his Chinese teammates finished fifth in their return to world competition.

Li's success at the 1980 World Cup in Toronto earned him a place on the cover of the January 1981 issue of International Gymnast magazine. He finished first on parallel bars, tied for second on floor exercise, and was fifth all-around.

At the 1981 World Championships in Moscow, Li became China's first male world champion when he tied Russia's Yuri Korolyov for the gold medal on floor exercise, and won a team bronze medal. He tied for eighth all-around at the 1982 World Cup in Zagreb. Li helped the Chinese men win their first world team title at the 1983 Worlds in Budapest, where they defeated the Soviet Union by 0.10. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Li won a team silver medal.

Wu and Li got acquainted at the Chinese national training center, when Wu was a pre-teen.

"We met the first day I went to the national training center," recalls Wu. "Yuejiu was already there. He was always a really big help to the little ones going to the training center because we were away from home. Our group really enjoyed his help. We didn't start dating till I was 18. A couple months before the Olympics we started being boyfriend and girlfriend. We kept it quiet!"

Wu says their nine-year age difference became less significant as she got older and their romance blossomed. "At that time he was way older than I," Wu says, laughing. "But it just came naturally. You can't help it; it happens."

Li Yuejiu

Gymnastics has always been the center of their family life, but Wu says she and Li enjoy their mutual profession.

"Our whole family is in gymnastics, and we actually work really well," she explains. "We really don't have that many conflicts. If we do have a difference, we talk about which way works better for the gymnast. We coached together for almost 20 years. I don't think we had any problems with that, but maybe sometimes coaching your own daughter, when she got injuries."

Wu says that coaching Anna could be difficult at times, since she and Li served dual roles as Anna's parents and coaches.

"It is really hard," Wu admits. "I'm sure Anna sometimes didn't feel she had people to comfort her when she had a bad day in the gym, because we rode home in the car together. We really tried not to talk about gym at home, but the tension was still there. But she always held her own. She's really hard on herself, so sometimes I have to turn around the other way, to comfort her. But she doesn't think it's working for her, even though deep down she knows what I'm saying and what we're thinking."

In January 2007, Wu and Li had the opportunity to watch Anna compete in her first home meet at UCLA - held in Pauley Pavilion, the arena in which the couple won their 1984 Olympic medals.

Wu said she and Li are proud of Anna's accomplishments, which include qualifying for the 2004 and 2005 U.S. Championships. Anna place 16th all-around at the 2005 U.S. Championships, in spite of a foot injury that prevented her from training vault or floor exercise for a few week weeks prior to the meet.

"Anna's a really tough girl, and she went through a lot with her injuries," Wu says. "Most of the frustrating things were because of injury. It wasn't a problem with skills, because she's a really hard worker. But an injury is so emotional with the mom, dad and the kid involved. Even when we didn't want her to train that hard, she wanted to. But we tried to help her do the best she can do. It was tough, but somehow we managed and got her through to a scholarship."

Wu said Anna is ambitious for more gymnastics success.

"Anna's not happy just getting a scholarship," Wu says. "She really wants to do well. She thinks she wants to go back to the elite level. She's always thinking about it. Gymnastics is everything to Anna. She never gives up."

Wu says she continues to offer Anna some coaching advice from afar, although she defers to the UCLA coaching staff.

"I do a little bit, because I really know her," Wu says. "Sometimes she gets a little frustrated with the training, because she's not used to the different way. The thing I constantly remind her is that, because she's not naturally powerful, when you're in pain, you don't have to do the skills and pounding. Just keep up all the conditioning and strength, and the skills are going to be there. You don't forget the skills. Also, to be sure she has safe, healthy workout. My husband and I have always had safe training for our gymnasts, so I keep reminding her of that."

As Wu and Li continue their gymnastics careers on a professional level, Wu says she is grateful that Anna has the opportunity to compete while learning how to be independent.

"Anna knows the sport very well with her body, and hopefully she can keep up that way," Wu says. "I try not to interfere with the college coaches, because they have their way to deal with the college kids. I'm happy with what they do. It's not just gymnastics. They teach the kids how to live their lives."

Wu and Li are featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:

February 1983 - 1982 Chunichi Cup photo gallery (includes Wu)
September 1982 - Li on cover photo collage, 1982 International Invitational coverage (Wu)
October 1981 - USA vs. China coverage Part II (Wu and Li)
September 1981 - USA vs. China coverage Part I (Wu and Li)
May 1981 - International Mixed Pairs coverage (Li)
January 1981 - Li on cover, 1980 World Cup coverage (Li)
March 1979 - 1978 Asian Games report (Li)

To order back issues of IG Magazine, click here.

Written by Admin    Tuesday, 06 February 2007 19:16    PDF Print
Hamms Launch Comeback
Following a two-year competitive layoff, twins and two-time Olympians Paul and Morgan Hamm on Wednesday officially announced they will return to competition.
Paul Hamm

The Hamms launched a new Web site,, with a video of their announcement.

"There are 546 days until the next Olympics," says Paul, the 2003 world and 2004 Olympic champion. "Morgan and I have decided to make a comeback and every day counts."

The Hamms train with three-time Olympian Blaine Wilson at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, with coach Miles Avery.

Avery told IG in January that both Hamms and Wilson are training all six events.

"They all will do the all around," Avery said. "Now which competitions happen before the 2008 Olympics will be determined with how training goes. As we are getting ready we will evaluate and decide what competitions to enter."

Wilson, 32, announced his comeback last fall and will compete at the U.S. Winter Cup, which begins Thursday in Las Vegas.

"Blaine wants to get out there and start competing as soon as he can," Avery said. "That's just Blaine, though. He has one gear and that is all out, all the time."

Both Hamms and Wilson were a member of the silver-medal-winning U.S. teams at the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim and at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Paul Hamm's Olympic all-around gold was soured by controversy after the competition, when it was revealed that the judges awarded Korean Yang Tae Young the wrong start value on one of his routines in the all-around final. The judges on parallel bars evaluated his routine out of a 9.9 instead of a 10.0, but arbitrators later ruled that it was too late to change the results.

Both Hamms are pursuing degrees at Ohio State, Morgan in exercise science and Paul in accounting. They announced plans to continue to add new video online chronicling their comeback.

"Morgan and Paul are more concerned with the preparation that goes into getting them back to being the best in the world," Avery said. "They all still have new skills that they must perfect before they are where they want to be. I am concerned with it all. I will be careful with them knowing what is at stake and what our goal is."

Written by Dwight Normile    Sunday, 04 February 2007 19:12    PDF Print
Masao Takemoto Dies at 87

Three-time Japanese Olympian Masao Takemoto died Feb. 5 in Kanagawa, Japan. He was 87.

Takemoto competed at the 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games, and won individual medals in each. At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, he tied for 15th place all-around and placed second on vault. At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Takemoto was fourth all-around, third (tie) on parallel bars, third on high bar and second with his team. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, a 41-year-old Takemoto placed fifth (tie) all-around, second on high bar and first with his team.

Takemoto won the gold medal on floor exercise at the 1954 and 1958 World Championships. In addition to those victories, he tied for 15th all-around and won the bronze medal on high bar in 1954; and placed fourth all-around, second on vault and third (tie) on high bar in 1958.

"I loved gymnastics," Takemoto said in 1997, when he was part of the inaugural induction class to the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. "Before I knew it I was 40 years of age."

Takemoto's name is in the Code of Points for a jam-shoot to full turn on high bar.

International Gymnastics Magazine Related Feature
1997 Hall of Fame Induction feature (August/September 1997)


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