Note: this interview took place on November 11, 2008
Jiang Yuyuan’s teammates were yelling at her, “put it in the bucket! Put it in the bucket!” Yuyuan was holding a squid she plucked from the beach. Smiling, she dropped the squid into a small blue bucket and filled it with seawater. The national gymnastics team was taking a beach trip to the seaside town Qingdao for a relaxing trip to recover from the Olympics.
In her training group, Yuyuan wasn’t the biggest kid; she always ended up with the responsibility to run errands or buy things. However, her bubbly personality made her stand out from everyone else and led people to make many nicknames for her.
“Which is more cheerful: little monkey or little rabbit? These are cheerful. Some people call me little rabbit, but some people think I look more like a little monkey,” Yuyuan giggled.
Because of her bright personality, her infectious smile, and her lively character, Yuyuan made a lasting impression upon the audience when she did her floor routine. “Sometimes when I see the people, I like to smile.”
When beginning her gymnastics career, Yuyuan’s strongest events were bars and beam, however, her expressiveness lead her coach to realize her potential on floor.
“There’s a little difference in the difficulty between me and my international competitors. But my expressions are my strength.”
A combination of her talent and hard work helped floor become one of Yuyuan’s stand out events. Because she was already strong across the other three events, Yuyuan became a very strong all-around gymnast. At the National Championships leading up to the Olympics, Yuyuan became the national all-around champion, solidifying her position on the 2008 Olympic team.
Unfortunately, a nagging elbow injury followed Yuyuan up through the 2008 Olympic Games. It severely impacted her ability to block off the vault table to compete her new vault, the Amanar. During the qualifications and all-around final of the Games Yuyuan crashed both of her Amanars. “I messed up and didn’t know what to do. All I could do was move on and do better on the next event. I believe confidence and faith are very important. Even if you don’t feel good about something, you should still try your best to feel good to change your mentality.”
In addition to helping the Chinese team qualify to the team final comfortably into first place, Yuyuan also secured spots in the all-around final and in the floor final.
During the team final, Yuyuan contributed on bars and floor. “As long as my first event went well, then everything would go well. That whole bar routine was my best at the Olympics. I did what I wanted and finished well.”
The final event was floor, all the Chinese team had to do was hit their routines and the gold was theirs. “They [the American team] finished already, we went after them. I told myself we weren’t behind, I told myself to feel that we are definitely better than them, those were my thoughts. I told myself I don’t believe I am not as good as you are.
Yuyuan was the second gymnast to compete in the Chinese floor lineup, where she charmed the crowd for her cheerful routine to “Lift your Veil,” and received a 15.200.
“I didn’t think too much, but I tried to express myself the best. I shouldn’t think too much or else I’ll be too stressed. I just breathed- when I started I just thought if I did an okay routine, it would be enough. Everyone was very supportive of me, I can definitely be successful. I believe in myself.”
The Chinese team finished the competition with a 188.900, finishing more than two points ahead of the silver-winning American team.
“When I was little I asked myself why do I do gymnastics? To become a world champion? To become Olympic Champion? Everybody says this. But you need to check your work ethic. Now that I got it [Olympic gold] I am so happy. I have so much more confidence now and feel like I need to continue working hard.”
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