Chinese Nationals — What Happened There?

If you were looking for a comfy, cozy competition where the expected people won titles and a clear picture of the potential Chinese worlds team emerged…Chinese Nationals was not that. Honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So let’s get into it. Here’s what you need to know to keep up as a responsible gymnastics citizen of the world.

All-Around

Your national all-around champion is Liu Tingting. In recent months (year), LTT has been limited to only bars and beam, but she has returned on all four pieces in 2019—using a Yfull on vault and a fully Netherlands-ified floor routine to build up sufficient scores to let her exceptional bars and beam routines carry her to competitive all-around totals.

The highlights are always going to be bars and beam, but this lovely turn-a-thon floor routine ranked quite well throughout the competition, and given a Chinese team that’s still grasping at straws when it comes to floor, this is at least a “well, we can always use Tingting” routine that reduces the potential urgency to find floor workers—even if the D score is pretty low.

Continuing her tradition of rising to the occasion in the all-around competition at nationals, two-time defending champion Luo Huan snatched a silver medal this year, putting together a comprehensively hit two-day all-around competition, with 14+s on bars and beam in both qualification and the AA final.

Things fell apart for Luo in the event finals, with misses on both pieces souring the final impression of her meet. Of the people who competed at nationals, she is currently a top-3 necessity on bars and beam, but China has a lot of people who can be “the bars and beam gymnast,” like Chen Yile who missed the competition with injury, so it’s not going to be a secure position for Luo moving forward.

Placing third AA was junior Ou Yushan, who is a glorious toe-pointy tropical fish on beam and we’ll get to that in a minute, but she is not senior eligible this year, so you can only get 3-out-of-5 Excitement Points about her right now. I’m sorry, them’s the rules.

Third among the seniors was first-year senior Tang Xijing, who came back from a meh day in qualification to recover a few spots in the all-around/team final. Beam is Tang’s strongest event, but on her day, she’s also capable of competitive numbers on bars and floor (her 13.45 on FX from day 2 was one of the stronger floor scores of the meet). That may become significant for team selection as we go because she can fill more roles than several of the other specialists. She doesn’t make you choose between a UB/BB worker and an FX worker. She can be both.

Zhang Jin is an interesting case because she struggled in the individual competition as ma whole, placing 9th. Zhang is never going to have the bars score to get a huge AA total (no one is expecting that event from her), but she also had frequent issues on beam here. At the same time, Zhang’s potential D score on floor (where she destroyed the field in qualification) and her DTT on vault still make her nearly irresistible to a team. And if she is in hitting-beam mode, that can also be an exceptionally high score.

Qi Qi ultimately took 6th in the all-around. Similarly to Zhang, we’re not really expecting a bars score from Qi, but she can produce big numbers on the other three events. A fall on her Silivas on the first day of competition took her out of EF contention on floor, but she did manage to hit that skill on the second day. That’s the kind of tumbling difficulty China hasn’t been able to put on a team in way too long.

If Qi gets to a point where that pass is consistent, I don’t see how you can ignore this floor routine, especially when she also has a rudi on vault now. Speaking of…

Vault

The issue is not that China doesn’t have vaulters. China has vaulters. The issue is that China doesn’t have a ton of vaulters with other events—vaulters that make sense in team selection.

Liu Jinru won the vault title, successfully landing a DTT and a rudi.

Qi Qi took second place with a rudi and a DTY.

Deng Yalan took third place with a rudi and a DTT of her own, the best rudi of the bunch in terms of dynamics.

Yu Linmin missed out on the medals, putting up a very capable, normal DTY but also going for a Cheng that was a little…well she landed it?

We’ve seen Liu Jinru make teams in the past for her vaulting (and allegedly for floor as well, though the floor scores don’t always seem to follow), but because there is almost no overlap between China’s vaulters and China’s…other-eventers, the edge in this group of vaulters goes to the one who actually has other events, rather than the one who has the best vault score. And that’s Qi Qi.

Still, China will have to think seriously about these other vaulters because the difference between putting up one of these rudis in a team final versus a Yfull from someone like Tingting is absolutely humongous. Counterpoint: Can you afford to put a one-event vaulter on the same team as one-eventer Fan Yilin? No.

Of course, there’s also the worry that these vaults will never be able to be reproduced outside of Chinese nationals. Very legitimate.

Uneven bars

Our first (and not last) shock of event finals came with heavy favorite Fan Yilin missing her routine on bars, flopping against the high bar on an inbar attempt and falling out the medals entirely.

That opened the door for Liu Tingting to take gold with her 6.0 D routine.

It was not the cleanest final in the world. And by that I mean it was a complete and utter disaster in nearly every way. We had Fan’s miss, and Luo Huan going over on a handstand, and #5 qualifier Zhou Ruiyu dismounting to her hairline, and #6 qualifier falling on a Van Leeuwen, #7 qualifier Li Shijia falling on a Gienger.

All of that opened the door for some unexpected medalists like Cheng Shiyi, who took silver.

We’re accustomed to taking bars for granted for China, but China is not currently in a position where you can throw a dart and hit a team-final-ready bars routine. Fan Yilin’s score is nearly essential because beyond that…you have a few 6.0ish D scores from people like Tingting and Luo Huan and ideally Chen Yile if healthy (the group that can deliver on that 6.0 D with sufficient E scores as well), but even 6.0 D is not in the top echelon of bars difficulties right now. You don’t want to have to dig any deeper on the depth chart than the four I’ve listed, and none of those four have big vaults. Bars is actually kind of tough right now for China.

Balance Beam

So, the bars final was a disaster, but then beam looked at it and went, “Oh I gotzzzz this,” and was even more disastrous. Three people hit in the bars final (LTT, Cheng Shiyi, and Ou Yushan), but only two people hit in the beam final—Ou Yushan and Tang Xijing.

Gold went to Ou, who did one of her weaker beam routines with a major break on her front handspring + front tuck series, but she’s just so fantastic that it didn’t really matter. Her team final beam routine has been the talk of the town.

Tang Xijing took silver and deserves credit for being the only person in the entire beam final who hit to potential and put up a mostly solid routine.

The rest was full of splatitude. Qi Qi fell on her layout and still took bronze because someone had to, Liu Tingting fell on her front tuck, Luo Huan fell on her layout, Luo Youjuan continued breaking hearts…it was bad.

On beam, however, I do feel like China is still in a “throw a dart and hit a TF routine” position. There are obvious hitting concerns with most/all of them, but welcome to beam. You obviously want Tingting’s routine there, and between Luo Huan, and Qi Qi, and Zhang Jin, and Tang Xijing, and hopefully Chen Yile, most of the likely contenders for other apparatuses also have reasonable beam routines. I’m not worried about China’s ability to come up with three potentially competitive beam routines on a team of five. It’s China. They’re all perfect. I mean, they all fall every single second, but they’re all perfect.

Floor exercise

Floor is still a problem, but obviously I’m thrilled to talk about what happened to Zhang Jin in the floor final because it was sad-larious and the highlight of the whole competition.

It wasn’t her best routine even before THE MOMENT (although she did almost accidentally do a quintuple spin at the beginning, so credit there), but then the switch ring 1/2 turn came along, and….this.

Brilliantly played. That one is going in the hall of fame.

So anyway, Zhang Jin missed a floor medal that she would have been favored to win and Qi Qi missed the final entirely because she fell on a double double tuck in qualification, which opened the door for SURPRISE DONKEYS, our old friend Shang Chunsong to come back and take floor gold.

Shang has been sort of semi-Nabieva retired yet competing domestically lately, but if she’s winning floor titles on a national team that’s desperately in need of floor workers…I’m just saying there can still be a spot for our girl. Shang did compete bars in qualification with a high bar-only routine, but one that included an F and two E skills. It’s half of a routine. If she is able to find the other half of that golden amulet and combine the two under the glow of a harvest moon, she’ll be unstoppable.

Floor silver went to Ou Yushan, because she’s the new star, and bronze went to Liu Tingting, but a noteworthy 4th-place finish belonged to tumbling world champion Jia Fangfang, who continues tumbling your face off with the most brilliant DLO full.

Beyond the tumbling…I mean it’s a try? She’s improving on the leaps a little, the choreography doesn’t exist, but it remains a fascinating experiment into whether you can score competitively on floor with amazing tumbling and the bare minimum of everything else. She’s close. If the acro skills are H enough, you can totally get by with a bunch of B dance elements. She’s also still counting an A acro skill as one of her 8 in this routine, so there’s definitely room to upgrade in the tumbling department. She’s not even maxed out there.


Meanwhile, we’re going to need to talk extensively about junior Guan Chenchen.

Item #1)

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End of conversation.

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34 thoughts on “Chinese Nationals — What Happened There?”

  1. This may have not been the cleanest of Chinese nationals, but it was certainly the most entertaining. Also pleased with the plethora of talent from the 04 babies. Chenchen, Shijia and Yushan all look seem to be legitimate contenders for the Olympic team with some fine tuning. China is just so complicated because they have zero complete all-arounders, and their best on any given event are usually one event specialists.

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  2. They must be so glad that olympics going back to team of 5… They are barely able to scrap together a 4 AAer team that doesnt have compromises

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  3. Hard to believe that you can put chinese bars and hard together in one sentence…. The way its going looks like US could sweep all 4 events in TF again..

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    1. China will definitely have a shot to beat the US on beam with the D scores they’ve been showing here…but then also only 1 senior hit in the final so don’t get your hopes up 😭😭

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    1. Agreed. I actually felt her choreo worked well for her, and it looks a lot better than in her earliest competitions. Leaps and jumps still are rather lacking, but I enjoyed watching her.

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      1. at least we’ve seen clear improvement from Fangfang, whereas Carey hasn’t made any notable improvement

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  4. No idea what they are going to do with the team this year. If worlds was six people they’d be fine lol. Right now I’d say:

    VT: (Liu TT) Tang XJ, Zhang Jin, Qi Qi
    UB: (Qi Qi) Tang XJ, Liu TT, Fan YL
    BB: (Zhang Jin), Qi Qi, Tang XJ, Liu TT
    FX: (Liu TT) Tang XJ, Qi Qi, Zhang Jin

    Which is very much not ideal. That bars lineup is honestly embarrassing for China’s bars history and they are still using a FTY. Where is a Tan Jiaxin when we need one?

    I hope China is able to get Songsong’s bars and Chen Yile’s everything back for this team:

    VT: (Liu TT) Chen YL, Zhang Jin, Qi Qi
    UB: (Qi Qi), Chen YL, Shang CS, Liu TT
    BB: (Zhang Jin) Chen YL, Qi Qi, Liu TT
    FX: (Chen YL) Shang CS, Qi Qi, Zhang Jin

    They’d actually have three strong routines on every event. THE CONCEPT. Not gonna happen, but still.

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    1. Luo Huan or Chen Yile in your original team instead of Tang Xiijing really helps the bars lineup but yes the vault lineup is a really big problem…

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      1. I thought Shijia was an 04 junior, just realized she’s senior. I think she would actually be a much better option for worlds because of her DTY. If you have a team of Tingting, Shijia, Yile (assuming she’s healthy enough for worlds), Zhang Jin and Qi Qi, you probably get the best compromise of bars for vault with three non-FTY vaults, and pretty decent ones at that. For bars, Shijia would be a pretty good trade off to get decent vault scores. You don’t want to count her, especially since it’s China, but she also could probably put up a functional enough number in a TF situation. Beam doesn’t matter. They can all realistically go well above a 14 with hit routines. And then on floor Qi Qi, Zhang Jin and Tingting can all put up pretty good scores hovering in the low to mid 13s, much better than the 12s they had to count at Doha, with Shijia capable of stepping up for a solid 13 if they need her to. If Yile isn’t healthy in time, they can put up Xijing or Fan Yilin, depending on how their vault and floor lineups are.

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      2. @Zyxcba: She’s a senior? I saw you mentioned her as a junior and didn’t account for her lol. If she does have a DTY (I didn’t find videos and I did wonder what kind of vault was getting her 13.800), it probably pays off to put her in because she loses some half a point on bars but then wins almost a full point on vault over a FTY because at worlds they give any old DTY at least a 8.7 E as long as it’s not a fall anyway.

        @Anon: Tang XJ loses some tenths on bars to Luo Huan but wins them back on floor and potentially beam and I went for that but it would be very similar with Luo Huan. Chen YL is the best option of course if she is still a thing.

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      3. Yeah I thought she was a junior and then saw some posts mentioning that she was a first year senior. You can find videos on YouTube of her competing if you type in her name. The DTYs not bad, a little low so the landings awkward, but not terrible and if Pasekas getting 8.5s for that Cheng you know Shijia can get at least a 14 on the DTY.

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  5. As of now I think China can bring Fan as a UB specialist:

    VT: Liu TT, Qi Qi, Zhang Jin
    UB: Luo Huan/Chen Yile, Liu TT, Fan Yilin
    BB: Jin, Huan/Yile, Liu TT
    FX: Liu TT, Qi Qi, Zhang Jin

    with some serious weaknesses on vault and floor.

    They could also bring Li Shijia instead of Yilin and basically trade the vault upgrade for a weaker bars lineup (as she is the most capable of filling the Tan Jiaxin role)

    VT: Shijia, Qi Qi, Zhang Jin
    UB: Shijia, Luo Huan/Chen Yile, Liu TT
    BB: Anyone
    FX: Liu TT, Qi Qi, Zhang Jin

    Final possibility is contingent on Songsong’s bars coming together and opens up for a vault specialist.

    VT: Liu TT, Qi/Jin, VT Specialistt
    UB: Songsong, Liu TT, Fan
    BB: Qi/Jin, Songsong, Liu TT
    FX: Liu TT, Songsong, Qi/Jin

    If any of the non-Tingting AAers (Luo Huan, Chen Yile, Tang Xijing) are able to upgrade past a Yfull they will be locked I think.

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  6. This last team seems pretty risky – a VT specialist and Fan YL at the same time to still count a FTY in TF? Not worth it. China needs to at least have fourth routines on each event, even if they are weak, considering how broken all of them are and how fragile team selection is for them. Imagine if something happens to one of the vaulters in that team??? Not even the alternate saves it, probably.

    I do agree that the biggest priority for Chow should be to teach at least a damn Y1.5 to those AAers (or any 5.0ish vault – there are other vault families out there). With Zhang Jin and Qi Qi being necessary on FX right now and also having VT, only one of the AAers (but ideally two) need to upgrade to give China some breathing room in TF.

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  7. China is already qualified to the Olympics so this is kind of a throwaway Worlds for them. Yeah, you want to medal on team for pride and to let people know you are still in the conversation still but they could also use it as a test bed for some of their bubble gymnasts or just let the specialists dominate and take home some individual medals while they try to build up a workable 4 person team.

    If Chow taught Gabby the Amanar in one weekend, you’d think he would be having a more measurable effect on the current Chinese vaulting picture. And if they can’t nail down the difficult tumbling, they need to Netherlands-up all the FXs they are going to put up. Clean spins and dance elements with low-level, clean tumbling will at least keep them in the mix. (also time to recalibrate the lower level feeder gyms/coaches that are only producing UB workers)

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    1. I do agree with you but in Chow’s defense:
      (1) He’s an NTC, not a head coach. No idea how much time he has for individually coaching gymnasts.
      (2) Gabby was unusually talented.
      (3) Her Amanar technique also sucked and she relied on her physical strength and twisting speed to survive.

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      1. Yeah, I was mostly tongue-in-cheeking the stuff about Chow. However, he cannot be blind to the way the wind is blowing (he got a first-hand education on Martha’s maneuvering–wolf turns anyone?) and getting a team up to snuff on vault (many NCAA gymnasts can do pretty perfect looking 1.5Ys so why can’t the younger, generally slighter, Chinese whose entire jobs it is to train gymnastics do them? Man, that is a grammatically bad sentence, but you get what I am laying down, right?) shouldn’t be beyond the coordinator to require. Even chunked DTYs get generous scoring and let’s not even talk about how Cheng’s apparently blind judges to vaulting faults.

        Same with FX. Obviously no one can compete with Simone at this point but careful skill selection and maximization of strengths should be paying off better for China than it has been. With a population of a billion or so, they should be able to find or train up a reasonably competitive AA gymnast and not rely on UB workers who can kinda do FX and VT or having to patch in VT and FX specialists to offset their UB-heavy team.

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      2. Totally. Also in the past, China has had gymnasts with excellent DTYs and occasional 2.5s – including AAers and bars specialists. They’ve backslid so, so much since 2008/2010. I don’t know enough about the Chinese gymnastics system to understand why.

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  8. I love team China, I really do. They are probably my favorite. But I do not understand why China always doubles-down on China-ing when it’s clearly not working for international results.

    The Dutch showed us that you can bulk up D-scores without having particularly strong (or clean!) tumbling. China should read the code and innovate instead of teaching every gymnast a triple+punch front.

    Chinese gymnasts have had pretty poor E-scores over the past quad or so as well. In my opinion, the scoring is biased against China’s strengths and is unfair, BUT it’s also a reality. China should adapt! Stop using inbar giengers when you’re getting deductions for breaking flow. Start sacrificing perfect form on beam in exchange for better rhythm – the rhythm deductions are killing your beamers and they aren’t getting enough additional points in E for crisp form to outweigh these losses. Focus on the Yurchenko-entry and half-on vaults since the front entry vaults get hit more for E, especially when they’re thrown by smaller and less dynamic gymnasts.

    It’s a shame that China’s amplitude and precision on bars and beam aren’t appreciated, but that’s life… they’ve had two quads now to respond to these changes yet things seem like they’re getting worse instead of better.

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  9. I don’t see a situation barring injury where Fan is left off the team because she has the best shot at a gold medal among all the gymnasts. Liu Tingting also comes in with huge repeat potential on beam. So with these two on the team, China has what their top 2 bars workers and their top beam score. Qi Qi is essentially locked too as she could medal on vault (Devillard nearly beat Paseka at Euros with the same vaults but worse execution) and right now Tang Xijing is putting together a nice case for her own beam medal chances. With these four we have:

    VT: ??, ??, Qi Qi
    UB: Tang Xijing, Liu Tingting, Fan Yilin
    BB: ??, Tang Xijing, Liu Tingting
    FX: ??, Tang Xijing, Qi Qi

    Zhang Jin’s 5.6 FX from qualifications puts her in the same difficulty realm as Hurd/Murakami last year, and with her own vault and beam ability she seems the most likely for this spot. China would still have to put up Liu or Tang to vault in TF, but this approach gives them at least 6 major contenders in finals (Qi Qi VT, Tingting and Fan UB, Xijing and Tingting BB, Zhang FX) and several dark horses as well (Qi and Zhang BB, Qi FX).
    Unfortunately, I don’t really see Shijia or Huan with any top-2 routines, although if Huan cleans up UB she could challenge Tingting as #2 there. Of course, even if Chen Yile doesn’t restore vault she could still take Tang’s spot with her own top-2 challenge on both bars and beam.

    If China DOES leave Fan off the team, then it’s a race between Shijia, Huan, Yile, and Xijing on which two can upgrade the most…

    I don’t remember the last time China had this many options!

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    1. They seem to have more options because their gymnastics level is lower this quad so it’s not really a good thing. The 2016 selection had a fragile team selection, but that was for a very high level team – they had gymnastics superior to their first options of this quad sitting at home. Zhu Xiaofang had no chance at making a major team last quad but would be a top AAer now for example.

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      1. You can say the same thing about many countries though now:
        • Skinner’s 2016 routines would make her the second-highest D-score AA in America right now despite her wacky bars and beam.
        • Nabieva was brought back for Russia just for vault in 2014 and now she is one of their top vaulters despite not being competitive on vault in 2012 quad.
        • Nichols, Raisman, and Skinner’s event final floor routines last quad were all quite a bit more difficult than the routine Hurd won silver with last year.

        Last quad China was very strong on bars with Yao, Huang, and Fan but weaker on beam (only Bai Yawen and Shang Chunsong ever challenged for a medal).
        While it’s true that they’re not as strong now on bars (only Fan and maybe Du Siyu have been on that level), they now have a treasure trove of top-level options on beam (Tingting, Chen Yile, Li Qi, Zhang Jin, Xijing).

        I agree that as a team China is unfortunately more specialized this quad with no one reaching Yao or Shang’s AA level, so their teams have lower realistic potential. But when you look at their position relative to the world I don’t think they’re worse off than previously.

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      2. @Anon: Oh, Russia is unequivocably better this quad than last quad, the Nabieva example actually illustrates it well. They don’t need to bring her back for a DTY right now. Tutkhalyan making all the teams she did last quad also shows how Russia was suffering last quad.
        As for the US, the glow of Simone is probably distracting everyone from the fact that, yeah, they were better last quad. I agree with you. At least half of their record-breaking margin over Russia in TF last year was Simone.

        China is better on beam compared to the world now more because the rest of the world didn’t adapt as well to the code as they did, rather than actually because they found new and better talent. Liu TT was already this good on beam in 2016, the code was just nicer to everyone lol. Overall I do think China is closer to Japan/Brazil/Canada(/Italy now?) than they are to Russia, which is not their usual position in the hierarchy.

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      3. It really doesn’t help that judges seem to see every single possible E deduction for Luo Huan yet miss all the same deductions for Nina Derwael.

        Not saying Huan’s execution is perfect, or that Derwael’s is terrible, but the E-panel judging has been so much harsher for China in the last 3 – 4 years than for most or all European and North American countries.

        Of course, China should respond to that by changing their strategy but they haven’t. 😦

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      4. No, Yao Jinnan and Wang Yan also challenged for beam medals in the last quad (EFs in 2013 and 2015). SCS and Bai Yawen were definitely not the only beamers.

        China is ~maybe~ a little better on beam now but their issue last quad wasn’t lack of talent, it was falling off the beam when it counted. With the exception of T2 in Doha, this quad’s team has also fallen off the beam when it counts.

        I also think the 2014 US team was pretty comparable to the 2018 US team. And of course Skinner’s routines in 2016 would have a higher D-score than others’ routines mid-quad – she was making a push for the Olympics.

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    1. For the most part, double twist is the most essential part of the routine.
      They can land this upright and sticking with good form is so much easier.

      The other options that aren’t triple twist, which is too difficult for many, cannot be considered.

      Double backs of any sort and they will incur a bunch of low chest deductions. China is also infamous for avoiding tumbling that lands forward so out goes 2 1/2 twist.

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  10. That clip of Guan Chenchen dancing should be immediately made part of her FX routine. I love some of the choreo on her beam routine too, she is the queen of sass. Make this happen Chow!!

    Also, is Li Qi injured again? If so, do the gods hate us?

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  11. In rest of the interview not shown in Item 3 above, Tang Xijing says she wants to get her DTY asap. Something to consider. Discuss!

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    1. DTY puts her on the team immediately, no questions asked. It is also indirectly great news for Fan Yilin, since China can have a strong vault lineup of people who can do other events and might just take her as the one-eventer even she isn’t as guaranteed extra tenths as a vault one-eventer.

      At this point I am more worried about bars than vault lol. Some more people should be upgrading past 6.0 and getting themselves in that Fan spot.

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      1. China wasn’t ever really good at transitions from low to high bar in general. We definitely took YJN and HHD for granted. YJN was just amazingly talented everywhere and HHD had been doing Shaps since 2009.

        LTT and LH are crazy inconsistent with theirs and Lu Yufei only just got her Shap 1/2 after 5 years since her first Chinese Bar Final.

        Heck even He Kexin struggled with Shaps if you remember those 2 training videos before 2012 OG.

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