Fan Yilin first turned heads when she- along with Madison Kocian, Daria Spiridonova, and Viktoria Komova- became world champion on uneven bars back in 2015. Her brilliance on uneven bars and her stable beam work set her up perfectly for the 2016 Rio squad. Five years and another World title later, she heads the 2021 Chinese Olympic squad as the Olympic veteran with hopes for gold.
Like the rest of the foreign athletes, upon arrival to Narita Airport, the Chinese delegation was met with warm greetings and dreadfully long Covid testing procedures. “Although we arrived very late, the organizing committee staff greeted us very warmly, they were very accommodating.” Fan said upon arrival to the Olympic Village her first impression was that it was very “clean”. Even though the living arrangements are not too spacious, they are still equipped for the athletes to have a comfortable stay.
Due to the rising Covid cases, Japan issued a state of emergency for the greater Tokyo area- heightening skepticism around whether the Olympic Games can be held safely. Tight measures have been put in place to detect, trace, and contain the spread of the virus. “Seeing the safety protocols put in place makes me feel relieved. When we go out we always wear our masks to protect ourselves.”
Upon the first day of training, the gymnasts did a light workout to maintain form. “Today we did training to adapt to the new environment,” Fan said. “I am familiar with the venue and the equipment, the gym was very clean. We had a good training.”
On top of the normal pressure that comes with competing at the Olympic Games, the new pressures of dodging Covid and saving your Olympic dream will be a whole other hurdle to overcome. Although these Games will be a totally different experience than her last, Fan’s maturity and poise will guide her to overcome the challenges.
After suffering a knee injury on vault at the first Olympic Trials selection camp, Li Shijia returned to Sichuan, her home province, for recovery. Upon arrival she was diagnosed with an acute bone injury. Although not too serious, it has caused her to withdraw from Olympic contention.
According to the video, Li Shijia was added to the roster as an alternate, however, there has been no news regarding any changes to the existing roster that lists Wei Xiaoyuan, Liu Tingting, Qi Qi, Luo Rui, and He Licheng as the alternates.
Death-defying elements like the triple-back tucked (Liukin), triple-back piked (Nagornyy), and triple-twisting double layout (Shirai III) give you a taste of what kind of incredible elements we’ll see for the upcoming Olympic Games. The Tokyo Men’s floor final will be a culmination of the hardest elements in gymnastics all combined into one competition loaded with suspense and drama.
Before we go into more depth about what we’ll see in Tokyo, let’s review some of the men’s gymnastics floor basics:
First of all, let’s talk about the basic floor composition requirements every gymnast must have. By fulfilling each of the four requirements, the gymnast should have an automatic +2.0 under their belt for their difficulty score.
Requirement 1: Non-Acrobatic elements (+0.5)
Usually the afterthought in 99% of men’s floor routines, non-acrobatic elements are awkwardly wedged in the middle of the floor routine to serve as a breather and a time for the gymnast to show the judges they can do more than just tumble. The most common non-acrobatic elements are the Fedorchenko and the wide arm press-handstand. Sometimes gymnasts will opt to do a cooler element like flairs (a crowd favorite).
Requirement 2: Forward Elements (+0.5)
This one is pretty self-explanatory: forward elements are those that begin facing forwards upon takeoff. Elements like a basic front-tuck fulfill this requirement. One thing to note is unlike women’s gymnastics, the men do not consider Arabian elements (like a double-Arabian) a forward element. The most common forward element will be the double front in both the tuck and pike position. Front twisting direct combinations are also popular thanks to the precious opportunity to earn connection value.
Requirement 3: Backwards Elements (+0.5)
Also pretty self-explanatory, elements that takeoff backward fulfills this requirement. Elements can be as easy as a back layout, to as difficult as a triple-back.
Requirement 4: D+ Dismount (+0.5)
In contrast to the women’s code, the men are still required to finish with a minimum of a D-dismount. The most common D-elements on men’s floor are the 2.5 twist, the full-in, double Arabian, double-layout, and of course the triple-twist. Like if you don’t dismount with a triple twist who even are you?
Now that we’ve got some of the foundations out of the way, let’s talk about who to keep our eyes on for a spot in the floor finals: Right now I would say there isn’t a clear favorite for the gold medal, but there is a top tier of gymnasts who are capable of challenging for gold, one being Artem Dolgopyat. Dolgopyat, a two-time World floor medalist, will certainly be eyeing the Olympic title. He recently debuted a triple-double as his third pass(!!!) so with difficulty like that, and the clean execution he’s known for, Dolgopyat solidifies himself as one of the top contenders for Olympic gold.
Casually debuting a triple-pike at the 2021 European Championships, Nikita Nagornyy is also a gold medal threat. A streak of errors in the last two major floor finals (2018 and 2019 World Championships) is something he will be looking to break in Tokyo with a clutch performance. If the rumors are true that he may attempt a full-twisting triple back, I would say he’s as close you can get for a gold medal favorite.
And how could I go on any farther without mentioning reigning floor World Champion Carlos Yulo? We haven’t seen any floor work from Yulo in 2021, but we did see a few upgrades at 2020 All Japan Championships (some worked out better than others) but the big question is will he still be at his level in 2019?
Also make sure to keep an eye on Rayderley Zapata from Spain, who recently debuted his brand new front full-twisting double layout in Doha a few weeks ago.
Another standout is Yahor Sharamkou from Belarus. Sharamkou is another member of the triple-back club. He has one of the most difficult floor routines in the world, and if he can hit as he did at the 2020 European Championships qualification round he could be a threat for a podium finish. Sharamkou’s weak point is consistency, as he only averaged a 14.05 so far this year. But if he can peak for the Olympics, don’t be surprised to see him near the podium.
Hovering under the shadows of the Nagornyys and the Dolgopyats of the world, I’m counting on Ryu Sunghyun to be a dark horse for a medal. The 2020 first year senior first caught my attention at 2019 Junior Worlds, where he won the floor title with impeccable twisting form. In 2020 he went on to win the 2020 Melbourne World Cup floor title with a 6.5 D-score where he stuck the crap out of his unusual 3.5 twist dismount.
I’m going to throw Hashimoto Daiki into this mix too. He’s not necessarily known as a floor specialist per se (especially in Japan with your Minami Kazukis and Shirai Kenzos and some guy you’ve never heard of before that threw a 7.2 D) but his performance at 2021 All-Japan Championships made him stand out as the top floor worker on the Japanese men’s team. His new upgrades, including a triple-double, make him stand out as an event-final contender.
I’m also going to add Xiao Ruoteng to the list of event final contenders. Xiao can be great on floor, but consistency is his weakness. He is the reigning floor World bronze medalist, and he did go 15.2 at the Chinese Olympic Trials. In order to get near the podium again, he’ll need a repeat of that performance.
What would a floor final be without Milad Karimi? Boasting one of the highest D-scores in the world (6.4) Karimi is in the mix for a final, however, for what he makes up in difficulty he lacks in execution. Sometimes his twisting form and landings can get a little haywire, but he has proven to still score well, most recently a 14.866 at the Osijek World Cup where he took the title.
Last but not least I’m going to talk about Yul Moldauer. Moldauer doesn’t have the difficulty to challenge the top floor contenders, but his E-score puts him in the mix for a spot in the final. At U.S. Olympic Trials he went 14.8 with a 9.0 E-score giving him the highest floor score of the entire trials. His strategy to hold back on difficulty and milk his E-score allowed him to take the bronze at 2017 Worlds and fourth in 2018. If any of the top tier floor workers falter, Moldauer could make an upset.
Despite winning the all around at China’s final Olympic Selection Camp, the controversial decision was announced last week to leave Zhang Boheng off the Olympic team. Wang Hongwei, the head of the men’s program, justified the decision to the press:
“The coaches all agreed the top three athletes of the men’s program (Xiao Ruoteng, Sun Wei, and Zou Jingyuan) were on the team, we all had different opinions on who should be the fourth member.”
The final decision for the fourth member was narrowed down to Zhang Boheng and Lin Chaopan. With Zhang Boheng winning the all around at the most recent Olympic selection camp, his spot on the team seemed like a no-brainer. But in the end, Lin Chaopan was selected despite being outscored by Zhang Boheng on every event at the most recent internal test.
“Lin Chaopan, the captain of the men’s program, can inspire his teammates to put up a fighting spirit and encourage everyone to work hard,” Wang said.
On the other hand, Wang used inexperience to justify leaving Zhang off the four-person squad. “Although he [Zhang Boheng] has not yet competed in a major international competition, we think he is a very well-rounded alternate. If any of the four members selected show any problems before the competition Zhang Boheng can be substituted in.”
The Chinese men have swapped alternates for team members at the Olympic Games before: Zheng Lihui replaced Lu Yufu in Sydney and Guo Weiyang replaced Teng Haibin in London.
One of the main points of emphasis for this team was mental strength and consistency. After mistakes on high bar at 2019 Worlds resulted in China losing the gold medal (and a similar issue at 2018 Worlds almost causing China to lose gold), the Chinese men are determined not to let history repeat itself.
During the live broadcast of the 2017 U.S. Classic, Morgan Hurd had just dismounted beam. The NBC commentators were gushing over Hurd’s talent and gymnastics potential when they said one line that made me spit out my water:
“I have a feeling if China could take her [Hurd] back they would take her back in a second.”
NBC continued to use this bit for Hurd throughout the rest of the 2017 season. It stung because rhetoric like this reaffirms the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype. Many Asian Americans can recall a time when they were asked “where are you really from?” as if they aren’t truly American. NBC commentators never would have said “Russia probably wants her back” when referring to Nastia Liukin. The stereotype boxes Asian Americans as outsiders and triangulates them in America’s racial binary.
The past year has been excruciatingly difficult for the AAPI community. Eight people dead in Atlanta, eight people dead in Indianapolis, and a 169% surge in targeted hate crimes all just within the past several months. Unfortunately targeted violence and abuse is nothing new to Asian Americans. I would go as far as saying it’s normalized.
To bring awareness and shed light upon the injustices facing the AAPI community, I wanted to create a small series to amplify the voices of AAPI gymnasts and become a medium for their stories to be heard.
Anna Glenn, member of the UCLA team that won 2018 Nationals, 2018 Regional Vault Champion, and balance beam icon, graciously took some time to share some of her experiences as an Asian American gymnast:
Growing up did you have any AAPI role models (in or outside of gymnastics)?
Growing up in North Carolina and in a white family, I was not exposed to many AAPI influencers, athletes, or other types of role models. Moving out to California for school and post-graduate life, I have been introduced to many AAPI role models and have learned to take great pride in my native heritage. In college, I surrounded myself with predominantly Asian American friends which contributed to my learning of AAPI culture. Additionally, the increased presence of AAPI representation in pop culture and multiple media platforms has allowed me to add to the list of AAPI role models I admire today.
Do you think there is adequate Asian American representation in gymnastics? Who did you look up to? (Elite, NCAA, JO, etc.)
The majority of Asian American representation that I have seen in gymnastics are Asian adoptees. Most of my Asian American friends that I had during my club gymnastics days and pre-collegiate years were all Asian adoptees. As comforting as this was to be surrounded by others with similar backgrounds as me, there was a lack of traditional culture. One gymnast that I remember looking up to in my younger gymnastics career was Anna Li, who also happened to be a fellow Bruin. She was one of very few gymnasts both in Elite and NCAA that was Asian American with an Asian American family.
Did going to college change your thinking about what it means to be Asian American?
College became a formative turning point for my personal identity as an Asian American. Coming to UCLA, I became exposed to Asian Americans from all different cultural backgrounds, different states, and different family dynamics. I started to become proud of who I was and where I came from. I became a part of the Asian American community at UCLA and embraced the sense of family that this community had. Having friends who were families of first, second, third-generation immigrants made me realize the difficult journey that those before us had endured to create the “accepting” society we live in today. Additionally, during my time at UCLA I had a lot of Asian American/ Canadian teammates that I created strong bonds with. My sister and I were the only Asian Americans on our club team, so this change was exciting for us.
How did COVID personally impact you and your family? With the rise in AAPI hate crimes were you ever scared for your safety?
Since Covid started and the AAPI hate crimes were highlighted in media, my family and I sat down and had some difficult conversations. It wasn’t so much a concern for my family’s safety but more so for mine, my sister’s and my friends here in LA. Covid itself was difficult as my sister and I were finishing up our last quarter at UCLA the time everything shut down. We decided to go home during that last quarter and stayed home for several months until returning to LA. It was nice to be home, but given that my home is in the southeast, I was hyperaware of my surroundings and constantly on the lookout for racial discrimination. When the hate crimes hit hard, it was hard since all of my friends were very emotional about it all and so concerned for their family’s safety. The best we could do was rally together, help spread awareness and be a tighter community. Although LA is a big city, I almost felt safer here since I was surrounded by so many people that looked like me. It was easier not to be an obvious target.
Do you feel people hold misconceptions about interracial adoption or adoption in general?
One particular misconception that rubs me the wrong way about adoption is that people think others adopt as an act of “charity”. Not once did I ever feel like I owed my parents and family something for adopting me. I am very grateful for them and do think my life is better that I am here in the states compared to the alternative. I believe that being adopted was the best thing that could have happened to me. I am proud of my background and feel that there is strength in these stories. Regardless of what types of misconceptions are out there, I have never been confronted about my adoption in a negative light and whenever I tell my story, I am welcomed with support. I think today, adoption has been so much more normalized and that people are much more accepting of it. Especially in the US, we have become such a large melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures, interracial adoption is becoming normalized to the scale of interracial couples and families.
Many Asian American kids can relate to experiencing anti-Asian racism whether it’s as subtle as being asked “where are you from?” or as blatant as having their physical features mocked or being bullied at school. Did you ever struggle with your identity growing up? What advice do you have for Asian American kids struggling with their identity?
When I was in elementary and middle school I really didn’t think twice about my race or what I looked like compared to everyone else. It was never a conversation that came up and I never really experienced racist comments at this age. Since my sister and I were young, our mom always helped us host an annual Chinese New Year party at our house with our gym friends. All of our friends loved this party and always looked forward to it. This was a great way for us to expose our friends to our culture and keep our identity as Chinese Americans on the surface. In high school, however, things started to get more real and topics about racism became integrated into conversation more. A lot of these conversations about race went hand-in-hand with political conversations. These conversations were a little tougher as I grew up in a predominantly conservative state in a family that shared less conservative views. I did experience some mocking in high school but I didn’t really think much about it at the time and it didn’t really bother me until later when I realized how demeaning and inappropriate those comments were. My advice to kids struggling with identity is to surround themselves with those who will lift them up and accept them as they are. No one should ever be criticized for being something they aren’t or for looking a particular way. Find people you can relate to and who have similar interests, stories, backgrounds. Sometimes, having friends that you can relate to on a different level can be self-validating and help with those feelings of insecurity.
Thank you so much to Anna for sharing her story, for more resources to combat anti-Asian violence please click here.
In the ongoing process of selecting the athletes who will represent China at the Tokyo Olympic Games, news came out of Shanghai that Zhang Jin, Tang Xijing, and Lu Yufei finished top three in the all around respectively.
Zhang Jin finished in the top spot with a 56.399, Tang Xijing second with a 56.365, and Lu Yufei in third with a 56.332. Liu Tingting, Ou Yushan, and Guan Chenchen didn’t compete all around.
In order to get as close to simulating the Olympic venue as possible, Senoh equipment (the equipment brand that will be used at the Tokyo Games) was brought in to mimic the conditions of the Olympic venue.
Following the competition, head coach Qiao Liang emphasized the team’s attention to overall consistency. The confident and clean beam routines shown at the camp was a clear improvement compared to last months national championships.
“This is our second step in selecting the Olympic team, the overall consistency and hit-rate has improved. This competition opportunity will be of great significance to the kids and be a lot of help. Because of the pandemic not everyone had the opportunity to compete.” Qiao said.
All around leader Zhang Jin expressed she wasn’t thinking too much about the results. She just wanted to maintain her current form, train hard everyday, and not have any regrets.
Lu Yufei expressed the difficulty she faced in changing to a new environment that was more similar to the Olympic venue. During the competition, she noted her bars were a little nervy and slightly chaotic, but found it to be a valuable experience in the lead up towards the Games.
As Fan Yilin has already secured an individual spot for the Olympic Games, this will be her second Olympic appearance. She mentioned one of the most valuable things she has learned was to treat each competition the same, no matter how big.
The men will host their second round of trials in Shanghai on June 24.
With Olympic spots on the line and only a few tenths separating who would get an automatic birth to the games, the stakes at this meet were extremely high. In conjunction with the All Japan Championships earlier last month, the standings from the NHK Cup-All Japan Championships saga was used to decide who Japan would send to the Olympics with the top three all-around getting an automatic spot on the team.
The meet got off to a fantastic start with Hiraiwa drilling a glorious NCAA-style Yurchenko 1.5 to give her a 14.3.
Hiraiwa wasn’t really on Japan’s Olympic team radar until last year. Ill-timed injuries have riddled most of her career, preventing her from being sent to major international competitions. But this year is different, she’s peaking in perfect time to vie for a spot on Japan’s Olympic team.
After a solid first rotation on vault, Murakami Mai struggled on bars, giving us a Svetlana Boginskaya 1996 compulsory reenactment.
However Mai was already so far ahead of the pack, she had enough of a lead to cushion her.
After a bringing back her Rudi and hitting a solid bars set, Asuka hit a clean beam set for a 13.633- the highest beam score of the day.
After rupturing her achilles last year, Teramoto’s Olympic hopes her in doubt. However after the Olympics were postponed for a year Teramoto is once again in contention for the team.
Sugihara Aiko also started the meet off nicely with her relatively new Yurchenko double-full. However she did struggle a little on bars, traditionally her weaker event.
She was able to rebound with a confident beam set showing off ambitious new connections and a nice double pike dismount.
Consistency queen Hatakeda Hitomi also had a fantastic beam routine after showing an upgraded bars set that allowed her to maintain her position in second place.
Murakami also showed a solid beam set, recovering from her bars mishap from the earlier rotation to score a 13.533.
On floor, Teramoto showed off clean tumbling but unfortunately landed short and fell on her final double pike- only scoring an 11.833
Coming into the final rotation with only a 0.02 deficit behind Sugihara, Teramoto needed to do everything in order to make her case for the Olympic team.
Sugihara followed up Teramoto with her charming new J-pop floor routine to solidify her fourth place ranking with a 53.698.
Coming into the final rotation, Hiraiwa needed a hit floor set to guarantee her guaranteed spot on the Olympic team.
With a solid tumbling, beautiful dance elements (the oversplits!), and a captivating performance, Hiraiwa scored a 13.466 to earn her guaranteed Olympic team spot.
Following Hiraiwa was Hatakeda who also only needed a hit set in order to guarantee her spot on the Olympic team. With a solid full-in, 2.5 to punch full, and double pike Hatakeda earned a 13.466 to sail into second place.
Finishing the competition on her strongest event was Murakami Mai. The 2017 floor World Champion easily topped the competition by getting the highest floor score of the day (14.2) to position herself as one of the favorites for an all around medal going into the Tokyo Olympics.
With Murakami, Hatakeda, and Hiraiwa guarenteed Olympic spots there was only one more position left to cap off the four person team.
After the seemingly eternal wait, the Japanese selection committee announced Aiko Sugihara would be the fourth person to represent Japan.
With Murakami Mai, Hatakeda Hitomi, Hiraiwa Yuna, and Sugihara Aiko rounding out the team, every person on this team understands what it’s like to overcome obstacles. Ill-timed injuries, poor competition results, or just bizarre team selection procedures, this Japanese team embodies perseverance and resilience. This summer they will compete in what is likely the biggest competition of their life, showcasing their gymnastics on the biggest stage in the world.
Ou Yushan’s highly anticipated return to competition hasn’t followed the linear trajectory many were expecting. Ou made several mistakes during the first day of competition, falling twice on beam and sitting her watered-down vault.
“It’s been a long time since I have competed, I also have been training a little less so my elements weren’t too consistent so I had a few issues. My coach was correcting me but I was still having problems. Since I haven’t been training enough, it’s been a little bit of a mental problem with some elements.”
Ou’s highlight of the day was on floor, where she achieved the top score of the day and qualified first into the floor final.
“Next time I won’t step out of bounds. Even during training I usually don’t step out of bounds, it could be because this is the competition and be an issue with my experience.”
After day one of the men’s competition has wrapped up, Sun Wei has found himself in a disappointing seventh place after making several mistakes. During podium training he commented on adjusting to the new setting:
“The temperature and the humidity in the arena is okay. Chengdu [the host city] is pretty humid and it’s causing me to slip a little. Right now I think most of my events are fine, I had a few issues on pommel horse so I still need to get used to the apparatus. On vault, my first vault was not good, but then I was able to improve my other attempts. Then on parallel bars I had a fall because my hand slipped. However this is just podium training, during the competition I should be okay.”
Expected to make her highly anticipated all-around return, Li Shijia is coming into 2021 National Championships as a veteran. She was a member of the 2019 World Championships squad and is the reigning world bronze medalist on beam. Unfortunately injuries prevented her from competing all-around during 2020 national championships, limiting her only to bars. However the tables have turned this week where Li will be looking to finish towards the top of the all-around standings.
During podium training Li commented on her progress:
“Across all four events everything went well. Back home my vault was lacking a little, but today I could vault a little more easily. I think it’s because I’m really excited, it gives me a lot more confidence.”
On beam and floor Li said “beam was okay, on floor I was also lacking a little bit with some elements. But on bars everything went really well.”