So, with just less than 5 months to go and coming back from a fairly dissapointing Olympics last year, how are China fixed as regards Worlds? And in general, what are the future prospects towards Rio? The National Games Prelims were a great chance to have a look at where they stand.
- Deng Linlin, He Kexin, Huang Qiushuang and Sui Lu have all said they will retire after the National Games, which will take place in September. This is very very close to Worlds and the East Asian Games, for which they might be persuaded to hold out that little big longer, particularly He Kexin who has a very good chance of making the worlds team. The fading of the old guard is of course sad, but neccessary to pave the way for the focus to be on their new talents.
- China's greatest hope, Yao Jinnan, is regaining her form steadily. She has said herself that she is about 70-80% 'back'. Floor is probably where the most work needs to be done, as she has her DTY and her beam and bars are pretty difficult. Her beam has a 6.7 potential with all connections hit, and while she did have issues with the standing full, it is similar to Aliya Mustafina's beam issues in that she looks very capable of ironing out the problems. Her bars are stellar as always, very sharp and clean work. I don't see any potential for the DTY to become anything else, not least because she injured herself doing a DTY last year. By contrast, floor was watered down quite a lot. If she can get it back similar to how it was during 2011 then she is a major medal threat in the worlds AA, though probably not gold given the lack of amanar, sadly.
- Shang Chunsong is bursting with potential and is definitely staking her claim as China's best all-arounder after Yao Jinnan. Her bars are extremely dynamic, containing her own move- the piked Hindorff into immediate Pak salto and her tumbling is extremely strong, especially her amazing first pass of 1.5 twist into triple twist-punchfront! Her beam saw her become the deserving beam champion and she did it perfectly during event finals. She does have a DTY in training, though just like Asuka Teramoto I think she will need to grow a bit in order for it to be a totally successful venture and for it to score well. Both girls are quite slight and don't have the push off the table that similarly short but extremely powerful girls like Simone Biles do. She's also a little inconsistent and shaky, though she did banish that in event finals. Unfortunately her fantastic tumbling is accompanied by a travesty of a routine choreography-wise that I'm sure most fans want to see binned fairly quickly. Hopefully being the new beam and floor champion as well as coming second in the AA will bolster her confidence. She's strong and small and could have great longevity for that reason alone.
- Tan Jiaxin unfortunately did not have a good competition. However, she has still upped her game as she now has an excellent DTY in her arsenal as well as an insane bars routine. That makes her a good bet for worlds, especially if HKX definitely retires before then and given that the bars fall is not characteristic for her.
- Tan Sixin has clearly come on a lot even since the winter training video emerged. Lovely beam as always, but I don't see her as important enough to make major teams.
- Zeng Siqi inspires worry that she'll be relegated to being a specialist, instead of the fabulous all-arounder that she could be. Her endurance and stamina are still so low that although her beam is a thing of beauty and very difficult, her dismount is always a problem. She shows no signs of regaining the DTY she had before her injury in 2011, though that is relieving given how almost frail she is. Her bars dismount remains more likely to be splatted than landed and while her floor does have difficult tumbling in it, it all looks a bit much for her.
- Wu Liufang looks set to continue fading into the background, unfortunately. Still has beautiful gymnastics, still woefully inconsistent and still not enough of an asset to the Chinese team.
- Huang Huidan stepped up and hit a cracker of a bars set in event finals with an enormous 6.6 difficulty. The fact that she beat bars-champion-since-2007-HKX must have been a good boost too, though the latter did make an error. Sadly HHD's hit record is still far from inspiring and her chances are still running out, reigning bars champion or not.
- Liu Tingting, a 2000 baby, was solid as a rock and placed FIFTH in the AA. Her extension, toepoint and general amazing execution are staunchly in evidence in everything she does and thankfully her difficulty has come up since last year. Slow and steady wins the race, she has incredible potential as as well as having the execution bit down, she is also quite springy and powerful.
- Yuan Xiaoyang, a 1999 baby, astonishingly took the vault title. She benefited from injuries and falls from the favourites as her vaults are quite low in difficulty, but still she is very impressive on more than this event.
- Wang Yan, probably born in 1999 or 2000, has a 6.7 beam routine. It contains the acro line made famous by Shawn Johnson- RO-RO-LO, a plethora of extremely high and well landed punchfronts and back tucks and an absolutely perfect please-upgrade-me double pike dismount. It's no fluid beauty but it's an incredible routine. She also shows promise on floor and vault, looks like she could develop into a strong all-arounder.
In general, beam and bars continue to be the dominant strength with gymnasts like Yao Jinnan, Tan Jiaxin, Shang Chunsong, Huang Huidan, Zeng Siqi and juniors Luo Huan, Mei Jie, Fan Yilin, Liu Zhilin, Liu Tingting, Wang Yan and Lv Jiaqi adequately covering all bases.
The vault and floor situation is as always, more questionable. They do have a few DTY's; Yao Jinnan, Tan Jiaxin, Luo Peiru and junior Wang Wei. They also have vault specialists Li Yiting, Yang Pei and Jiang Tong. However, there's no sign of their top two all-arounders flinging amanars which in this day and age is bad news. Shang Chunsong at least looks capable of nailing the DTY she already has (in training) and of all the girls, Tan Jiaxin looks able to give an amanar a go. But this area will still be weak by comparison to others. As far as floor is concerned, Shang Chunsong, Yao Jinnan and Zeng Siqi are the best bets, with Wang Wei and Liu Tingting looking like very good future prospects. Again, they don't have a depth of talent here and will really have to hone the routines they do have. And start Alla Sosnitskaya/Ksenia Afanasyeva'ing turn combinations, stat! And as Rick from gymnasticscoaching just pointed out, the ideal situation is that the top all-arounders have strong vault and floor, not that they just have strong vault and floor girls to go with their crowds of bars/beam girls. I'm hoping that will come in time. After all, the great Cheng Fei herself is coaching.
The worlds team will contain (if healthy) Yao Jinnan, Shang Chunsong and Zeng Siqi. The fourth place could go either way, vault specialist or bars specialist. At this point I think Tan Jiaxin will take it. So this potential team will have
- Yao Jinnan AA, BB, UB
- Shang Chunsong AA, BB, UB, FX
- Zeng Siqi BB, FX
- Tan Jiaxin UB
I know there's too many bars and beam qualifiers, hard to know what could happen there though.
In short, China are in desperate need of mini Cheng Fei's as they're still lacking in the power event categories, with an overemphasis instead on their pet events. They do have springy powerful looking young girls like Wang Yan and Liu Tingting but still crying out for depth in the power department. The last time they won a team title, the code was in their favour as it glorified bars and pirouette-heavy routines. They also did not have to contend with an amanar fest as their biggest rivals fielded one amanar, a Rudi and a DTY versus their own offering of an amanar and 2 DTY's (they had planned a second amanar, Jiang Yuyuan but she lost the ability at the last minute) and the American advantage of 0.5 on vault was swiftly lost after bars. Now, the code is against them somewhat and their bars have taken a nosedive in start value. Thankfully they have adapted to this and they already have dynamic release-release and release-transition routines, but it's not enough. I don't see AA gold appearing in the next two years, or the team gold next year. But they are moving in the right direction and have already appointed a new head vault coach with this in mind. Hopefully their results will continue to improve in other areas besides beam and bars event finals.
Who do you see as China's greatest hopes? On their team? Can they get it together and start to challenge outside of beam and bars again?
Check back for Russian, Romanian and USA versions soon :)
Videos are here and won't embed for me. If I had to pick just to a few to recommend they would be...Wang Yan, Shang Chunsong and Liu Tingting on beam, and Huang Huidan and Yao Jinnan on bars. Youku has more, there's a good selection here. These are, in order left to right (until they become duplicates of the YT videos) Lv Jiaqi FX, Luo Peiru BB, Liu Tingting FX, Liu Tingting UB, Jiang Yuyuan FX, Liu Tingting BB, Fan Yilin FX, Zhu Siyan BB, Wang Yan FX, Chen Li BB. Out of this lot you should watch Wang Yan FX, everything Liu Tingting and Lv Jiaqi FX at least. I still need Tan Jiaxin's everything and Shang Chunsong's UB. If anyone has links please leave them in the comments.