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World Bars Champion Fan Yilin of China Took Up Gymnastics Because She Had Been Troubled With Illness Since A Young Age

China's Fan Yilin was part of the first four-way tie for gold at a World Championship in Glasgow which was her first Worlds. At 6.9, Y...

China's Fan Yilin was part of the first four-way tie for gold at a World Championship in Glasgow which was her first Worlds. At 6.9, Yilin had the highest difficulty score on uneven bars. She was the only female individual medalist from China at this Worlds. 

Blogger Mr. Firefox wrote an article about the Chinese gymnast informing us about her background.

There are some striking and rather intriguing similarities between Fan Yilin and Aliya Mustafina : not only are both of them superb at bars, both Yilin and Aliya are the daughters of professional wrestling athletes. Most importantly, both Aliya and Yilin are known to be two of the more consistent gymnasts in the current competitive scene, in which unfortunate splat-fests and wobble-carnivals are often the norm. Maybe it is a gene thing. The gene of being athletes. 

Ironically, Yilin did not take up gymnastics due to personal interest; nor was it due to the preconceived expectations that her father, Fan Bingzhu, has set upon her. Rather, Yilin took up gymnastics as a mere avenue to improve her physical wellbeing, for she had been troubled by illness since a young age. In a fortuitous twist of events, however, Yilin was somehow selected to train gymnastics at Hongkou Junior Sports School at an age of 6, the same year when she started this very sport which will, unbeknownst to her at the time, make her a World Champion at a tender age of 16.

Training gymnastics in China was a notoriously tough process. Every day, Yilin will undergo 8 hours of “hell” training which includes long distance jogging, body stretching and practises on all four apparatuses. A small loss of concentration would attract punishment, which often involved doing handstands against the wall for a long duration of time. Fortunately, Yilin came on top of it. According to Fan Bingzhu, Yilin was “a person of tenacity and ambition”. “She never complains, no matter how hard the training can be. She just bites her teeth and carries on.” He said. “Considering that she doesn’t have the physical build to excel at this sport, I would attribute most of her success to her perseverance and tenacity.”

Yilin successfully entered the provincial team of Shanghai, the city which nurtured her since her birth. In 2013, Yilin, then yet a member of the National team, attracted the spotlight of the Gymternet by becoming the first Chinese to complete a Komova II. A relatively simple (it still has a D-score of 6.3) but well-executed routine also placed her at a respectable 5th place in the 2013 China Nationals, when she was just 14 years old. As a consequence to her consistency and talent shown at bar, Yilin was also then chosen to enter the national team in 2014. Everything seems to be going well for her.

And then, as if it was a part of the inevitable Chinese tradition, Yilin injured herself and have to pull-out of the season in 2014. Everyone was worried about her, for China do have a long list of burnt-out and wasted young gymnasts. But once again, Yilin proved that the offspring of athletes was not to be easily looked down upon. In 2015, Yilin came back to the competitive scene with a blast. A super hard bar routine featuring an innovative dismount combination instantly grabbed the hearts of the fans worldwide. With the queen of Chinese gymnastics, Yao Jinnan, out of the competition for a year, everybody was rooting for her to take on the position of Yao on bars. Yilin did not disappoint. In the bars finals of China Nationals 2015, Yilin held up to the pressures and grabbed her first National gold medal.  Everything seems to be back on track again.

However, any gymnastics fan with some basic knowledge in Chinese gymnastics history would have guessed that the road to becoming a world champion would not be so easily for Yilin. Indeed, in the Asian Championships held in Japan in August, Yilin, for some reasons, changed her dismount to a choppy DLO, and fell on her new yet prosaic dismount in the event final, missing her chance to become an Asian bar champion. Rumour has it that FIG specifically arranged a conference to discuss about her original dismount, and came to a conclusion that her dismount was not the same as the “double tuck with half-turn” listed on the COP, and should be awarded with only a C difficulty. While there are no ways to seeking the absolute truth now, the change to her routine dampened the expectations that Chinese fans had put up on her. Things only took a turn for the worse in the Worlds. Despite Yilin valiantly managing to connect her pak with chow and bringing up her bars difficulty to a 6.9 – the highest in the competition, her E score was relentlessly penalized by her, once again, choppy DLO and inbar geinger.  Her 8.166 E scores with a hit bar set was definitely a huge blow to both the Chinese team and the Chinese fans, as seen from the disastrous beam performance and the furore that the E-score had caused on the Chinese gymternet. Everyone was crestfallen. In an interview with Wang Qunce, coach of Yilin and Wang Yan, Wang only listed Wang Yan’s beam routine as the “potential gold clincher”, insinuating that he did not believe in the possibility of Fan clinching gold. The general atmosphere on the Chinese gymternet was also edging towards the pessimistic end of the spectrum, for people began to postulate that the Chinese will go home empty handed this year.

And then, Yilin defied everybody’s expectations again – even her coach! In the event final in which Yilin qualified as a humble 5th, she put up her best showing on bars after her change of dismount. The E-score of 8.466 was still the third lowest of the day, yet with a difficulty of 6.9, Yilin tied with three other gymnasts to share the glory of becoming the World Champion on bars. On the podium, Yilin displayed her signature bright smiles, the smiles that she had kept on throughout the Worlds – regardless of winning or losing, competing or cheering for teammates. Maybe it is due to this inherent optimism in her, that she always seems to be capable of holding her nerves even in the tensest moments, making use of this quality of hers as an impetus towards success.

Back in China, Fan Bingzhu could not hide his excitement about her daughter’s new title. “When she was young and competed domestically, I would always go to the venue and cheer for her on the spot. As she turned older and became more skilled, she was sent overseas to compete and I couldn’t go with her. However, she has a lot of fans now, so I can always get first-hand information about her through her fans.” Fan Bingzhu exclaimed. On the other hand, however, Yilin was still just a kid in the eyes of her father. She liked to play bejewelled in her free time, and was a food addict. Her favourite food, Bingzhu proudly mentioned, were stir-fried cabbage and Tiantai-style dumplings (天台扁食) that he would cook for her when there was a chance. When asked about his expectations for her in the possible Rio Olympics, the father said:” Of course I would wish her all the best, but I wouldn’t set an expectation for her. Everything should just go with the flow, as I do not believe in the positive aspect of pressurizing your kid.”

Yilin, the girl who with the bright smiles, would definitely brighten up the arena with her sheer optimism and determination. Let your athletic heritage flows in your blood Yilin, and do your daddy proud.

By Gigi Farid

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