Saturday, May 3, 2008

Chinese Women's Team Selection Outlook

above: The Chinese women celebrating after winning their first team gold at the 2006 World championships. The Chinese hope to win their first Olympic team gold at the 2008 Beijing games.

China has prepared full force to be at top form for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the pride of a nation will be most at stake during the women's team final. Yes, the men are likely to win gold on their home turf. But for the women, a first-ever U.S. vs. China battle is set to take place between the two frenemies, and China as a nation will likely see this as one of the big ticket events of the games, as well as an event to potentially show that they could be the world's leading superpower. China will have its best shot in history to win a women's team gold medal on their home turf. Like the United States, the Chinese women are very deep. To my count, their are 14 women with a legitimate shot at competing in the Olympics, but as the clock ticks down it is becoming more and more clear as to who we will see representing China come August.

Gymnasts with a legitimate shot at making the Olympics:

Cheng Fei
He Kexin
Deng Linlin
Sui Lu
Zhang Nan
He Ning
Pang Panpan
Xiao Sha
Li Shanshan
Li Ya
Fan Ye
Yang Yilin
Jiang Yuyuan
Zhou Zhouru

Cheng Fei

Brief Bio: Cheng Fei competed at the 2004 Olympics and barely missed meddling on the floor exercise. Cheng has since won three world vault titles, a world floor exercise title, and several world cup titles as well. She has been undefeated on vault for the entire quadrennium.

Pros: China's 3-event star is needed for her potential for extremely high scores on vault, beam, and floor to offset high marks on the power events from the U.S. girls. Her experience is the most of any Chinese gymnast, competing in an Olympic games and three world championships. She was recently elected team captain, almost providing her a guarantee that she will be in Beijing.

Cons: Cheng was inconsistent at the last world championships, suffering a fall on a crucial vault en route to China losing its team gold medal. Cheng is one of the oldest Chinese gymnasts, and thus she could be more prone to injury. Cheng has even stated that she feels her skills have reached a peak and that she is worried that the other girls will catch up to her on the power events.

Outlook: Barring a major injury, Cheng is going to her 2nd Olympics, this time with LOTS more pressure. Her strength on the power events is needed to lessen the USA's potential scoring advantage on vault and floor. Cheng is known for her strong work ethic and also ability to pace herself, which should enable her to come to the games healthy and fully prepared to win gold.

He Kexin

Brief Bio: Kexin was hardly known by anyone in the gymnastics community outside of China in 2007, but in 'o8 everyone and their mom has surely heard and seen her incredible UB work. She trounced the field to win gold on the uneven bars at both the Doha and Cottbus World Cups.

Pros: Kexin has the world-record international score (16.85) on UB or any event for the women. Her extremely difficult bars set is consistent for her, making everything look very easy. She is also upgraded to a DTY vault, and there is even some speculation that she might come to the Olympics armed with an Amanar.

Cons: Kexin doesn't provide much to the team on beam or floor, and it is also a widespread rumor that she is too young to go to the games. (please read April Gymnastics News Round-Up post) Kexin is one of the only potential Chinese Olympians who has yet to compete in a world championship, and has just started competing on the world cup circuit this year.

Outlook: The Chinese might be hesitant to put Kexin on the team due to her lack of experience and because of the age rumor, though I fully expect to see her in Beijing. Her UB routine gives China a huge advantage over the USA on that event and her potential for a good vault score only adds to her potential contribution to the team. While experience is questionable, I have yet to see Kexin fall on her difficult UB routine, which should satisfy the coaches' need for a consistent gymnast.

Deng Linlin

Brief Bio: Like Kexin, Deng Linlin has burst out onto the scene this year. She won a medal of every color (Gold-BB, Silver-FX, Bronze-VT) at the Doha World Cup, and also won the AA at an internal test event meet against all the other top Chinese gymnasts.

Pros: Deng Linlin can contribute strong scores on three events, which is something the Chinese will need. She could be a strong lead-off vaulter or floor worker during team finals, and we shouldn't forget about her new, formidable 7.0 A-score on beam. Deng winning the AA at the recent Chinese test event ahead of Jiang Yuyuan (Yang Yilin was injured) and others helps her cause out to go to Beijing.

Cons: Deng is inexperienced and the coaches may not fully trust her to be mentally prepared to deal with all the pressure surrounding the Chinese women at the oly's. He Kexin's potential to be a vault lead-off as well will hurt Linlin's chances of making the team, as will her lack of international favor due to not being on the scene long enough. China also needs strong specialists, and Linlin's strength on the power events doesn't rival that of Cheng Fei or Jiang Yuyuan.

Outlook: Deng is on the bubble at this point. There are others that are looking to grab her position for her potential as a vault/floor/beam lead-off. Deng provides several strengths to the team, but the Chinese will look for world-class specialists on every event who are internationally seasoned to hit in Beijing. Deng's consistency and improvement, however, could be the right recipe to be chosen for the team.

Sui Lu

Brief Bio: Not much is known about Sui Lu, but she was very strong at the Chinese internal test event. There, she competed a whooping 6.4 A-score on floor (the equivalent of Fei/Yuyuan/possibly Johnson) and a 7.1 A-score on beam.

Pros: Though she has little name recognition, Sui Lu's world-class A-scores on beam and floor are just what the Chinese team needs. Floor is where China could potentially lose ground on the USA and for China to have three 6.4 A-scores points shows strong signs toward them winning gold in August. Li Shanshan's inconsistency on beam is also providing an open-door for Sui to get a spot on the Olympic team.

Cons: Before the recent China test event, pretty much the entire world hadn't a clue that this girl even existed. Judges are picky with gymnasts with little name recognition, and experience is obviously not on Sui's side with her yet to compete at a major international event on the senior level. It also appears as though Sui has little to contribute in terms of vault and uneven bars.

Outlook: Choosing Sui Lu for the team will be like gambling BIG MONEY in Vegas. Sui's huge starting scores on beam and floor can help out the Chinese girls a great deal in their quest for Olympic gold. However, Sui's lack of experience and exposure on the scene could backfire on the Chinese team both in terms of biased scores and missed routines. Sui's a potentially great asset to the team, but in this case the risk probably won't outweigh the reward.

Zhang Nan

Brief Bio: Zhang Nan has been on the senior team of China since 2003, where she won bronze in the AA at the 2003 Worlds and 2004 Olympics. She was also on the 2006 World Champion Chinese women's team and made balance beam finals there as well.

Pros: Zhang Nan is an experienced competitor who is generally consistent when the chips are down. At top form, Nan is capable of posting 16+ scores on balance beam and doesn't have a glaringly weak event.

Cons: The Chinese coaches switching Cheng Fei to team captain, originally Zhang Nan's duty, does not help her Olympic chances out in the least. Nan has battled many injuries and performed poorly at the 2007 Chinese Nationals, missing the world team. According to reports, Nan did not look strong at the recent pre-Olympic trials in China.

Outlook: Unless if Zhang Nan improves considerably in the next month, it is very unlikely we will see her competing in a 2nd Olympics. Nan's injuries have held her back since 2006 Worlds while the younger generation has come out like gangbusters to get the coveted six spots on the Olympic team. Handing the team captain duties over to Cheng Fei basically means that the Chinese coaches are no longer interested in what Zhang Nan has to offer.

He Ning

Brief Bio: He Ning contributed to China's gold medal win at the 2006 Worlds. Shortly after that, she secured the AA title at the 2006 East Asian Games. She was also selected to her 2nd world team in 2007 which won the silver medal.

Pros: He Ning's assets to the team are good UB work, consistency, experience, and extreme loyalty to China and its gymnastics. (i.e. when Yang Yilin beat Tweddle for bronze on UB at 'o7 worlds she screamed VERY LOUDlY in delight) He Ning is the only competitor besides Cheng Fei who was on both the 2006 and 2007 world championship teams.

Cons: With He Kexin, China no longer needs He Ning's work on UB, which is solid but unspectacular. He Ning is more of an AA gymnast than anything and China will be much more interested in filling the six team slots with specialists on at least one event, which is not something that Ning can really offer.

Outlook: Despite being named to both the 'o6 and '07 world teams, He Ning is unlikely to be named to the Olympic team. Her lack of a spectacular strength on one or more events will not turn eyes of the Chinese coaches looking to build an unbeatable team in the 6-3-3 of death format. Even her experience and consistency will be unlikely to prevail this year with Kexin, Sui, and Linlin all looking to grab Ning's former spot on the team.

Pang Panpan

Brief Bio: Pang Panpan burst out onto the scene at the 2006 Worlds, winning gold with her team and was in the mix to win AA gold had it not been for falls on beam and vault. However, injuries hampered her 2007 performances and thus was relegated to alternate at the 2007 Worlds.

Pros: Pang Panpan has an upgraded 7.1 A-score on uneven bars and at top form is strong on every event. Panpan has always been scored favorably, especially during the 'o6 worlds AA final when (some) judges were trying to go against Bruno Grandi's orders to let Vanessa Ferrari win so that they could crown Pang as the AA champ. (She had a fall on beam and yet was ranked 1st after 3 events). Pang is very experienced, which is not something many of the youngsters can say.

Cons: Pang is somewhat inconsistent, and has not competed a DTY in over a year. A good vault is something that could be a comparative advantage for her, but it looks like that won't materialize. Her upgrades on bars are good, but Yuyuan, Yilin, and Kexin all have equivalent or higher an A-score on that event while also looking to contribute on perhaps more events than that of Pang. Pang's beam and floor routines have lately not been up to the standard where China will need them come Beijing.

Outlook: Pang Panpan is on the bubble for the team as well. Her experience and good international scoring favor are strong assets to the team, but with Cheng Fei these assets aren't especially necessary. Pang's potential AA stength and improvement on UB could get her on the team IF she gets her vault back to a DTY. However, without a good vault she is simply opening the door for several other gymnasts to snatch her spot.

Xiao Sha

Brief Bio: Xiao Sha was named to the 2007 World team with a strong 2nd-place finish in the AA at the Chinese Nationals. There, she helped her team win silver and placed 7th in the AA. She opened up 2008 with an easy victory on the beam at the 2008 Cottbus Cup.

Pros: Xiao Sha hit a clutch performance on beam at the 2007 worlds-team finals after falling twice in prelims. Xiao's confidence has improved noticeably, especially when winning beam at Cottbus after falling twice in the warm-up. She also won beam at the Chinese internal test event, capitalizing on her strength to make the squad. Xiao also has very good expression on floor and won a bronze at Cottbus on that event as well.

Cons: Xiao Sha doesn't contribute much to the team beyond the balance beam, and of course this will be the most precarious event for the Chinese coaches to decide who they will need on the team most. There are others that can contribute more than Xiao's potential for a floor lead-off position, and the several high A-scores on beam lessen her comparative advantage on that event.

Outlook: Li Shanshan's inconsistency this year on beam is opening the door for Xiao Sha to steal one of the last spots on the team. Her improving confidence and consistency will be assets to the team, but the coaches need to decide if Xiao's strength on balance beam is enough to allow her to compete in Beijing.

Li Shanshan

Brief Bio: Li Shanshan was selected to compete on the 2007 World team. Then a relative unknown outside of China, Shanshan won the silver medal with her team and on the balance beam WITH a fall. She won beam a few weeks later at the Intercity Games, and silver at the 2008 Cottbus Cup on the same event.

Pros: Li Shanshan's whooping potential A-score of 7.3 on beam is the highest known to any gymnast competing in the world. Had Shanshan not fallen at the 2007 Worlds-event finals, she would've posted a practically unbeatable 16.7. Shanshan also contributed on floor at Worlds team finals, being the lead-off performer.

Cons: Li Shanshan's inconsistency with her difficult beam set is making her lose ground to other beam workers, particularly Xiao Sha. She also doesn't have another especially strong event besides balance beam. Chosen to be the floor lead-off at worlds, she fell out-of-bounds and provided the golden opportunity for the USA to win.

Outlook: Shanshan is battling Xiao Sha for the beam specialist spot, and so far it looks like Xiao is going to get it. Shanshan's nerves and inconsistency are too much for the Chinese to gamble on to allow her to compete in team finals when gold is at stake. However, her scoring potential on beam and opportunities to redeem herself (Tianjin World Cup/Chinese Nats) mean that all is not lost YET for Shanshan.

Li Ya/Fan Ye

Brief Bio: Li Ya and Fan Ye competed on the 2004 Chinese Olympic team of DISASTER, which finished a shockingly low 7th in team finals. Individually, Fan Ye won the 2003 World beam title and made UB and BB event finals at the 2005 worlds, though she failed to medal in either event. Li Ya made UB and BB event finals at the 2004 Olympics, though also failed to medal in either event. She won silver on UB and gold on BB at the 2006 world cup finals, and was on the 2006 World Champion team.

Outlook: We have not seen Li Ya compete internationally since the 2007 Maribor World Cup and Fan Ye since 2007 Glasgow World Cup. They both have similar strengths, but them not being sent to international competitions in favor of younger competitors means that neither is likely to be considered for a 2nd Olympic team. Both are known to crack under the pressure, and did so numerous times in Athens. There was no mention of either gymnast at the recent Chinese internal test event.

Yang Yilin

For more info please see AA final post.

Outlook: Despite her injury, Yilin's strength on bars provides China with a hefty advantage over USA on that event. Her consistency at top form and good AA strength should get Yilin on the team, providing she recovers in time.

Jiang Yuyuan

For more info please see AA final post

Outlook: Yuyuan successfully competing an Amanar vault at the recent internal test event basically guarantees that she is going to Beijing. Her potential high scores on vault, floor and bars make Yuyuan a big asset to the team.

Zhou Zhouru

Brief Bio: Zhou Zhouru was declared a B-team athlete by the NBC commentators at the American Cup, though she ended up competing at the 2006 World Champion team and placed in AA finals at those championships as well. She won the silver medal in the AA at the 2006 East Asian Games, but was left off the 2007 World Championship squad.

Pros: Zhou Zhouru brings consistency, unique artistry on floor exercise, and good all-around strength to the team. After not being selected to the 2007 world team, Zhou came to the 2007 Stuttgart World Cup and won gold on BB and bronze on UB. Zhou is also a fan favorite for her good form and originality.

Cons: Zhou doesn't have a formidable A-score on any event and has been passed aside for the recent world cup meets in favor of the youngsters. She doesn't have an overwhelming specialty event, and doesn't provide the scoring potential China needs on her better events, bars and beam.

Outlook: Sadly, NBC calling Zhou Zhouru a B-team athlete will likely hold true in 2008, despite it not doing so in 2006. Zhou, even at her peak, doesn't provide the Chinese anything that they don't already have amongst their top gymnasts likely to make the squad.

Closing Thoughts

  • China is likely to field a team similar to that of the 2007 Worlds. Veterans from 2006, with the exception of Fei, have given little international exposure in the last year which means that the Chinese coaches liked what they saw from the girls at the '07 worlds, despite them not winning gold.

  • China is going after the A-score for a gold medal, while hoping that good form and consistency hold true for high B-scores. The U.S. seems to be going after both scores, but the top Chinese girls seem to be upgrading their routines 24/7 and could have a big starting score advantage over the U.S. come August.

  • The days of China's breathtaking ability/never being able to hit under pressure to save its life seem to be more/less over. Gymnasts' difficulty will provide more room for error, but if the increased difficulty backfires the U.S. will be right there to snatch the gold.

  • China wants girls with atleast some international exposure, high difficulty, specialty on one or more event and general consistency to be on the team.

Predicted Olympic team:

  1. Cheng Fei
  2. Jiang Yuyuan
  3. He Kexin
  4. Yang Yilin
  5. Sui Lu (UPDATE)
  6. Xiao Sha


  1. Pang Panpan
  2. Li Shanshan
  3. Deng Linlin (UPDATE)

Barring injury, Fei and Yuyuan are locks because of their strengths on the power events. Kexin will go because of her valuable UB set EVEN IF she is too young. Yilin's consistency and excellent UB work will help out China greatly. Linlin's multiple contributions to the squad on VT, BB and FX are just what China needs to get consistently high scores on those apparatus. Xiao Sha's confidence and strength on beam provide her a chance to help out her team and potentially an individual gold medal on that event.

UPDATE: Now that the Chinese Nationals have taken place, Sui Lu's golds on beam and floor in event finals far outshine Deng's AA and vault bronze medals and it now seems far more probable that Sui Lu will be named to the team as opposed to Linlin.

Now, the start score comparison with my predicted olympic teams for China and USA. The A-score will be crucial to who wins gold in Beijing. First, the A-scores we KNOW that the athletes are CAPABLE of competing. (Note: This is tentative and should just be read to get an idea of the starting scores between USA and China, not for an exact number).

USA VT: Peszek(5.8), Johnson(6.5), Sacramone(6.3)=18.6

USA UB: Memmel(6.6), Worley(6.7), Liukin(7.7)=21.0

USA BB: Sacramone(6.6), Liukin(6.6), Johnson (6.9)=20.1

USA FX: Memmel(6.2), Sacramone(6.2), Johnson(6.3)=18.7 TOTAL=78.4

CHN VT: Kexin(5.8), Yuyuan(6.5), Cheng(6.5)=18.8

CHN UB: Yuyuan(7.1), Yilin(7.2), Kexin(7.7)=22.0

CHN BB: Linlin(7.0), Fei(7.0), Sha(7.1)=21.1

CHN FX: Linlin(6.1), Yuyuan(6.3), Cheng(6.4)=18.8 TOTAL=80.7

China Advantage by 2.3

Potential Upgrades:

Cheng(FX)-6.5 with piked full-in dismount

Liukin(BB)-6.8 with triple full dismount

Johnson(BB)-7.0 with pike front and 6.4(FX) if double pike is replaced with full-in

Liukin (UB)-7.9 if Tkatchev and Pak are connected

Memmel(UB)-said in IG interview that she has 95% of her old bar routine and has added a couple new skills- I won't bump her score up yet

Sacramone(FX)-6.3 if she replaces double pike with triple twist

Peszek and Kexin (VT) with potential Amanars, if both compete them the .7 upgrade for both teams will cancel each other out

Status with rumored upgrades:

USA: 79.8

China: 81.5

China Advantage by 1.7

China having at least 1.5 and as much as 2.5 points in A-score advantage bodes VERY WELL for their olympic chances. While the exact A-scores of the athletes I listed are still sketchy, I was trying to make the point that China is boosting their A-scores as much as possible to get the gold. The U.S. should get better execution marks, and as competitors they are perhaps a little bit more consistent. I still believe China will falter somewhat and that USA will win, but people saying that the U.S. is the best in the world and will crush the field for the gold obviously don't know jack squat about the strength of the Chinese girls.

Next Post: Analysis on Chalked Up and the Parkettes

That is all.


arianne said...

Hi! Thank you for posting these wonderful posts about Chinese gymnastics and gymnastics in general. I'm just a casual watcher of gymnastics eagerly anticipating the Olympic competition and your posts are helping me tremendously. Keep up the great work!

Young said...

Ahh... thanks for this post. I had little idea who the Chinese 'bubble girls' were before this post!

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