It is very rare in the life of international elite athletes to compete on their training ground, in front of friends, family and loved ones. This is nevertheless what happened to the Chinese team in rhythmic gymnastics, which dominated the Chengdu FISU Games team all-around event on Sunday at Chengdu Sport University Gymnasium.
Gold medalists Chen Jiaqi, Zhao Hongyu, Li Xuerui, Chen Minshan and Xiao Mingxin indeed study at Chengdu Sport University, thus having a deepIMG 7777 knowledge of the venue and its landmarks, for it is their regular training gym.
“We did have a home advantage and were very familiar with the venue since we practice here. However, competing is a different story”, tempered team leader Xiao Mingxin.
Being a local athlete also means competing with the pressure of your entourage being present. “During the exercises we didn’t think much about family and friends, but after the competition was done, we realised it had made a huge difference for us!” relished Li Xuerui.
The physical education and training student, alongside her teammates, managed to transform the pressure into support to win China’s 20th medal of the FISU Games. This put a stronger grip on first place in the medal table at the end of Day 2.
The gymnasts delivered a spectacular show of elegance, style and chemistry, acting like a true family on the floor. So did the thousands of people in the gymnasium, who roared as one to welcome and cheer their local stars as they performed with ribbons and balls to the sound of a local music.
“We have chosen a folk traditional music, to which we added Chinese instruments like the flute, so that we had a strong local Chengdu feature to echo where these FISU Games take place”, explained Zhao Hongyu, who visualized natural scenery of her district as she trained with teammates.
The Chinese winners ended up in front of bronze medalists Japan, and the second place Ukrainians.
The team event was preceded by Hungarian triumph in the individual all-around, during which Olympian and psychology student Fanni Pigniczki was crowned.
“Psychology studies help me a lot in understanding myself, reacting to my feelings, and taking the stress away. My mom is a psychologist too, so I grew up with that kind of mentality”, the Budapest-born gymnast shared.
The Karoli Gaspar University student also benefited from a family of champions, for both her father and grandfather represented Hungary in international table tennis competitions, the latter even winning a silver medal at the 1959 World Championships. “He has always been supportive and stood next to me. [He] and my dad also help me mentally, for whenever I have problems I know I can count on them”, the FISU champion gratefully stated.
Twice a bronze medalist in World Championships, Pigniczki confirmed her status as favourite with an outstanding combined score of 126.800, in front of Khrystyna Pohranychnaukra from Ukraine and Reina Matsusaka from Japan.
Rhythmic gymnastics ends on Monday, with all remaining medal events taking place at the Chengdu Sports University Gymnasium.
Written by FISU Young Reporter Louis Gilles