In a not so distant past, Chinese women gymnasts won the team all-around competition in Beijing at 2008 Games. Since then, many had high hopes that they would repeat their glory and dominate gymnastic podium in future games. But that hope turned into disappointment at Rio as the Chinese teams were crushed by the American team and only claimed the bronze, with a whopping 8.6 points behind the US.
At Rio, American athletes had a heart stopping performance in all 12 routines across four events, and led by Simone Biles, the ecstatic “Final Five” strolled away with their first gold medal.
Simone Biles is majestic, not only in her signature event, the floor routine, but in all four events. Her spectacular and flawless routines in the team final has helped the team secure the second and consecutive gold for US gymnasts.
The 20-year-old Shang Chunsong leads the Chinese team, along with two 19-year-olds, Tan Jiaxin and Mao Yi, and two 16-year-olds, Fan Yilin and Wang Ya. Their age has sparked another controversy at Rio, with many people being skeptical about the age they claim, questioning whether they indeed reach 16, the minimum age requirement for female gymnastic athletes.
Apart from their age, Chinese girls look much weaker, paler and thinner than American athletes.
“The Chinese girls look like they can be easily snapped in half,” some comments appear on social media.
It is reported that the team captain Shang caught a cold and had a fever the first day arriving at Rio, because the dining hall in the athlete village was “freezing cold”. She skipped the routine on apparatus during the training, and botched her vault in the qualifiers, after scoring a disappointing 56.532. She admitted of being at only 70 percent in the competition, after missing a chunk of training because of her illness.
Maybe the difference in athlete’s body shapes – the skinny Chinese type vs. the strong, muscular American figure could partially explain the disparaging performance.
Biles was only 4 feet 9, but looks older, stronger and more muscular than the Chinese athletes. She was touted as the best female gymnast in history and once a lifetime athlete. With her strong body frame, she revealed tremendous power, flexibility and endurance in her performance that allowed her to gain a superhuman ability to twist, flip and spin, and to perform a manoeuvre dubbed “The Biles” – which no one has ever even attempted. She also claimed the gold medal in the individual all-around.
Women gymnastic athletes once became known for unusually small, seemingly prepubescent athletes, giving the sport a reputation as a hotbed of eating disorders. But as the sport has changed over the past decade, so has the body associated with it.
Strong, explosive athletes are indeed healthier and better able to withstand the rigors of intense competition. As the feeble waif style has faded away, modern gymnastics increasingly relies on strength and dynamism than before, and gymnasts with more athletic physiques are better performers in this modern game era. Amid China’s growing desire to strengthen its image as an Olympic superpower, athletes’ stronger body types can further help demonstrate the point.
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