8 September, 2010

The metamorphosis of Jiang Yuyuan

jiang-yuyuan---CHNA pre-Olympic favorite for all-around gold, Jiang’s status has been questionable since her disappointing sixth place result in Beijing. However, recent results suggest she is not only out of her slump, but on her way to being better than ever.
New World All-Around Contender?
I only say “new” because it’s been so long since Jiang Yuyuan has been at the top of her game. Prior to the 2008 Olympics she was widely considered the biggest threat to Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, but unfortunately a lackluster performance in the all-around – including a major fall on vault and some uncharacteristic problems on floor – left her in 6th place.
Jiang still had plenty of gymnastics left in her though, and she went on to compete all over the world in the months that followed, looking about as good as ever. After looking brilliant at the 2009 World University Games en route to an easy victory, it appeared Jiang was ready to take over the reigns as the best gymnast in the world. But by the time the 2009 Chinese Nationals arrived, Jiang’s spark was suddenly gone. A scary fall on beam and disastrous performance in the all-around kept her from winning the all-around, and at the world championships in London, she was conspicuously absent.
Jiang has popped up at a few international competitions since then, but with significantly watered down difficulty and an uncertain future at best. Even Chinese head coach Lu Shanzhen recently referred to Jiang’s status as a “slump.” I couldn’t agree more.
Her re-emergence in the last few weeks has been incredibly encouraging. In early August International Gymnast reported that Jiang won an internal Chinese test event with a 59.35, although considering the often questionable Chinese scoring and Jiang’s up and down pattern over the last two years, videos were going to have to emerge before fans put faith back into this gymnast. Now we have just that.
At 2010 Chinese Nationals, Jiang was the all-around leader after the qualifying competition and finished second overall behind Sui Lu. It is not her qualifying score of 57.1 that impresses me most – it’s her performances.
There’s a spark and a sense of “newness” about her gymnastics that suggests she is not only out of her slump – she’s on her way to being better than ever. If she continues this trajectory, I expect she’ll contend with two of the Russians and two of the Americans for the world all-around title in less than two months.
By Andy Thornton, Special to Universal Sports