An account of a Chinese pre-Olympic training session

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On Wednesday July 18th, Full Twist had the fantastic opportunity to watch the Chinese MAG and WAG Olympic Squads training at their pre- Olympic training camp in Salto National Gymnastics Centre Lisburn. A press day, organised by Salto and Sport NI gave the press a great opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at Team China in preparation for the Olympic Games.

Pulling up to Salto felt strange especially as it is a venue I am so familiar with. A police car parked outside with a Police Officer standing outside the doors of the centre, another officer inside guarding the door of the gym questioning why we were there. Inside the lobby, the press gathered catching glimpse’s of He Kexin on bars through the massive Chinese flag covering the main gym window. Deng Linlin could be seen on beam whilst Sui Lu, Yao Jinnan, Jiang Yuyuan, Tan Sixin and Huang Qiushuang worked on floor. The male gymnasts worked some vaults and rings. At no time did I see any male gymnast on High Bar, Floor, Pommels or Parallel Bars. Salto Director Tony Byrne gave press a briefing before, encouraging us to take photographs and some video but were restricted to a very small area in the gym. We were told not to disturb the gymnasts in any way  – no talking, no flash photography, to avoid our session being cut short, a fate which had become of a certain National television broadcaster the previous day.

On entering the gym, the feeling was electric, being an avid gymnastics fans, these were the types of gymnasts I had aspired to be growing up. At this stage the training session was coming to a close, with the press witnessing about 40 minutes training. A lot of the gymnasts sat down and did not train. There was no training on bars, only Yao Jinnan vaulted twice and then Men only worked on Rings. I get the feeling that Huang Qiushuang’s Amanar was not to be shown, nor were He Kexin’s bars. China’s state television broadcaster CCTV 5 had been in the gym for at least an hour before with the gymnasts, filming training and doing interviews. Although the gymnasts were performing great, they seemed physically tired of the press attention. It can be seen from a news clip from CCTV 5 that Jiang Yuyuan was quite upset discussing her failure to make the Olympic team, having helped China bring home the team gold in 2008. She said:

“I think there is just a 20 to 30 percent chance of that miracle but as long as I tried, it’s fine.”

As training finished up Chen Yibing sat with an Accelerated Recovery System attached to his leg, following injuring his meniscus the previous Saturday. During the session he had been training Rings and was dismounting, he limped around the gym a little but Head of Delegation Ye Zhennan told Full Twist that Yibing did not sustain a serious injury to his knee and is believed to be fit to defend his reigning Olympic Rings title from Beijing.

“He has a small problem, not a very serious problem. He is ok, you can see in his training that he is ok, he can perform good and is training well.”

You can read more on Chen Yibing here. Some of the other female gymnasts received some physio and stretching. Apparently the Chinese team physio is actually American, she does not speak any Chinese so communicates via the team translator. Watching the girls being stretched out was amazing.

The gymnasts and coaches declined interviews, Tony Byrne advised that it had been a long and hard training session, harder than the previous evening’s session. The delegation had some photograph commitments to attend to but once that was finished they quickly left the gym to have lunch and a rest before the evenings training session. The gymnasts normally have two training sessions of three hours each, morning and evening. The morning session was said to be the harder of the two.  The delegation left Salto in two mini bus’s to the Premier Inn hotel, not even a mile down the road, via police escort.

I know you are all keen for me to share the tid-bits of information I gained from my trip:

  • The squad train twice a day in Salto, normally two three hour sessions.
  • The gymnasts and coaches do not speak English.
  • A fridge is in the lobby, fully stacked with milk, water and yoghurts. The female gymnasts are allowed to have yoghurts, the male gymnasts are not.
  • Breakfast at the Premier Inn has been items such as fruit, croissants, pain au chocolat – all very much enjoyed by the gymnasts.
  • The girls especially seemed have a good deal of strapping on, mainly ankle and heels. Deng Linlin appears to maybe have a back issue, wearing a back brace for the second half of the training session.
  • From the age of seven, Chinese gymnasts train twice a day 6 days a week.
  • A three hour conditioning session is very common in Chinese training.
  • All Chinese gymnasts are taught to take off for moves on their left leg. To see a gymnasts use their right leg is very rare.

A question many people have asked me since returning is “did the gymnasts seem happy?”.  My answer is yes, not overly happy but this was a serious pre-Olympic training camp. The relationship between coaches and gymnasts seemed strong and friendly, as friendly as coach and gymnast should be. Coming into an Olympic year especially, we see numerous reports online featuring Chinese gymnasts “suffering” through tough training sessions. From my watch – no gymnast was unfairly treated or forced to do something they couldn’t. There was a good relationship between coach and gymnast and also between the gymnasts themselves. They were as supportive to one another as we have seen from the likes of the USA. Training was nothing new from what I have previously seen at the London 2012 Test event or in the training halls at the MAG Europeans.

Overall, this was a great experience to see behind the scenes. The gymnasts looked fantastic however I still think that the USA and Russia have the edge over them, maybe even Romania.

Check out some of Full Twist’s other posts from the trip to the Chinese Olympic training camp including videos.

Coaching Masterclass with Chinese Olympic Coaches

Chen Yibing set to defend Olympic title

Sui Lu’s new floor routine

Videos of China’s Olympic Squads training

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