January 14, 2009

Spotlight: Chinese Juniors

On Thursday, January 15, the 2009 competitive season kicks off with the Australian Youth Olympic Festival (AYOF) in Sydney, featuring teams from Australia, China, Great Britain, Japan, Malaysia, and New Zealand. (The list of competing athletes can be found here.)

We were hoping to do a nice writeup on the two Australian teams in the competition, one of which includes Dasha Joura's younger sister, Natalia. Unfortunately we had too many other pressing demands on our time to get around to it. We did, however, get JW to do a great writeup on the Chinese girls competing in Sydney, replete with photos and YouTube videos. The story focuses mainly on China's most famous junior, Cui Jie, but there is some material on the three other girls as well. Enjoy!

Meet China’s AYOF team

China’s WAG contingent includes the talented Cui Jie, already a favorite among international fans, and three newcomers: Fu Bo, Tan Sixin, and Wu Liufang. The team selection appears to have been determined in large part by results from the 2008 Junior Nationals, held in Dali (Yunnan Province) last September, where Wu Liufang and Cui Jie placed 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in the “A” age group, and Tan Sixin and Fu Bo claimed gold and bronze in the “B” division and led their Shanghai team to victory.

Here, Tan (front row, on the right) and Fu (back row, but not sure which girl) appear with the rest of the winning Shanghai team:

(photo: SH Sports)

And here, Tan Sixin performs on FX:

(photo: SH Sports)

(The A-division winner in Dali, Chen Chuyan, is now a senior and thus ineligible for AYOF, while Fu Bo is apparently a last-minute replacement for B-division runner-up, Wang Anqi.)

Wu Liufang represents Guangdong Province, the powerhouse team behind such current and past stars as Yang Yilin, Li Shanshan, Peng Sha, Huang Mandan, and Li Li. She placed 16th AA at the 2007 Intercity Games (a multi-sport national competition for young athletes). In September 2008 she participated in the Guangdong Junior Championships, where Loo_Winnie, a fan from Hong Kong, caught her in action (photo and video both used with Winnie’s express permission):

Wu Liufang on beam - check out those leaps!

Wu Liufang (photo: Loo_Winnie)

And here, she poses on beam:

Wu Liufang (photo: Li Xiang)

Cui Jie is by far the best known of this quartet. At 4’2” (give or take), the teen from Changsha (Hunan Province) is one of the smallest gymnasts on the international scene, but her diminutive stature belies a presence and polish beyond her years. She already shows an impressive level of difficulty and good execution on every event, and with proper training and pacing, she could emerge as China’s next star. A fixture at national competitions since 2006, she achieved her first major breakthrough at the 2007 Intercity Games. Her sixth-place finish in the all-around was tops for any provincial-level (i.e. non-national team) gymnast, and the five girls who placed ahead of her (Yang Yilin, Xiao Sha, Li Shanshan, Deng Linlin, and Sui Lu) would eventually be named to China’s Olympic training squad. Cui also qualified to three event finals, placing third on BB, fourth on FX, and fifth on UB. Her outstanding performance earned her a coveted spot on the junior national Team in Beijing.

2008 brought Cui Jie’s much-anticipated international debut. In March, she traveled to the U.S. for the Pacific Rim Championships in San Jose, California. As a warm-up for Pac Rim, she competed at the little-publicized Houston International Invitational, where she grabbed first all-around and scored an impressive 16.15 on beam. In San Jose, a nasty fall on her UB dismount dropped her to seventh all-around in the junior division, but she rallied in event finals to share the beam title with USA junior standout Rebecca Bross.

Cui Jie, mid-twist at the 2008 Individual National Championships in Qingdao (photo: Sina)

Cui maintained a busy competitive schedule throughout 2008. In May, she headed to Tianjin for Chinese Nationals. Although she didn’t win any medals, she performed well enough to finish 11th AA (the only junior in the top 12), sixth on beam, and fifth on FX. A heavy favorite to win the “A”-division all-around title at Junior Nationals, she found herself in third place after a sub-par performance on beam. Competing at the Individual Nationals in Qingdao several weeks later, she placed in the top-5 AA and qualified to BB and FX finals.

Cui returned to the Hunan Provincial Team for a brief period last fall but reported back to the National Training Center in Beijing earlier this month to prepare for AYOF. According to Chinese blogger Xiao Jun, Cui will remain on the national team after AYOF, training alongside Olympians Jiang Yuyuan and Deng Linlin in the coaching group headed by Xiong Jingbin and Zhang Xia. Xiong also coached Lu Li to UB gold at the 1992 Olympics. Given Xiong’s impressive resume and his new pupil’s considerable talents, this seems like an excellent match, and it will be exciting to see what the future holds for Cui Jie.

Some of Cui Jie’s better performances from 2007 and 2008:

Vault from 2007 Chinese Nationals (she has apparently upgraded to a Yurchenko-1.5, but we haven’t been able to find a video)

Bars from a competition in May 2007

Beam: bronze-medal-winning performance at the 2007 Intercity Games

Beam: 2008 Pac Rim prelims

Floor: 2008 Chinese Nationals

This article was based on the following sources: Dali Daily, SH Sports, and Xiaojun Gym.


  1. Information like this is why I love Triple Full. Thanks JW and TF! I can't wait to see more of Cui Jie.

    I do think a similar treatment of the Australian team (teams?) in Sydney would have been nice. I can't help noticing that Australian gymnastics seems to be given short shrift on your blog. Pity, cause Australia has a good team.

  2. wow, Wu Liufang is a very pretty gymnast. Her Yang Bo jump is impressive. Thanks for the article.

  3. Someone please keep track of the age of these new Chinese gymnasts, so that at the 2012 olympics, china would not get to cheat with underaged gymnasts.

  4. Gosh Mike, you seem so concerned about fairness, why don't you keep track for us?

  5. Anonymous 1, we'd love to pay more attention to Australian gymnastics. We'd also love to pay more attention to American, Canadian, and British gymnastics, but our time is limited and we've made a conscious choice to focus mainly on news from non-English-speaking countries. When time allows, we will post stories on gymnasts from English-speaking countries, but when we're busy, as we are at the moment, we usually stick to news from other countries, since there are plenty of other sites and blogs out there which will deal with the American/Canadian/British/Australian news. Both IG (when it's up and running) and the Australian Gymnastics Blog are doing a fine job of keeping readers updated on developments in Australian gymnastics. We could repeat everything they say, but what would be the point?

    Anonymous 2, we agree Wu's Yang Bo jump is excellent. In fact, it may well be the best we've seen since Yang herself!

    Mike, we're getting a bit fed up with seeing the age thing dragged up again and again, by yourself and others. Get over it, OK? Please. Bygones!

  6. The american government must start an agressive compaign to develope world class gymnasts. We need to recruit at least 1,000 promising young gymnasts and then pick 6 from among them and send them to the olympics.

  7. End of story, Mike. GET OVER IT!

  8. LOL this Mike Brown person is probably some unemployed dude who cant get over an occasional defeat of his country.