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'Prince of Parallel Bars' swings back into action
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World and Olympic gymnastic champion Li Xiaopeng will take the spotlight at the Bank of China World Cup gymnastics competition, to be held in Tianjin on May 14-15.

Competing alongside Li will be World Championships and Olympic individual all-round champion Yang Wei in the men's competition; and Cheng Fei, the three-time World Championships women's vault champion.

The World Cup will be an opportunity for Li to prepare for the Olympics, after being plagued with injuries for the past two years.

Li has just made it back onto the China men's team and his exceptional performance at the recent Stuttgart World Cup encouraged expectations of a third victory on the parallel bars.

This time, Li's primary goal in Tianjin is to ready himself for the upcoming Olympics.

Li, who has the most world championship titles of any member on the national team, claimed his first World Championship gold on the vault nine years ago in Tianjin.

Since then he has claimed gold medals on the parallel bars at the Olympics, World Championships and World Cup competitions, solidifying his status as "Prince of the Parallel Bars".

Fans have every reason to believe that Stuttgart's victory is a prelude to further Olympic glory for Li.

He has long been the face of the national gymnastics team. However, after his defeat at the Athens Olympics, the once high-spirited Li faded from the national consciousness.

Even so, he did not allow himself to collapse under the pressure and in 2008 he has once again shown he is capable of beating the best.

On his return to action, Li mesmerized the world with his difficult routines on the parallel bars and skilful performances on the high bar, taking gold in Stuttgart.

On the high bar, he altered his program in accordance with the new international gymnastic federation rules, filling his routine with moves that were appreciated by the judges and cemented his status as a key contributor to the Chinese team on this apparatus, a notoriously weak event for China in previous years.

Though his return was not expected, Li said he still has room to improve and with about 100 days to go, he plans to narrow his focus and work even harder to once again realize his Olympic dream.

The vault has been a weak event for him since the new rules were implemented, which include in-air rotations or somersaults.

To maintain his competitive edge on the vault, Li has had to learn some new moves, which has been quite a challenge for the 27-year-old athlete.

In 2007, it was rumored that he was working on a new move, the "Xiaopeng Jump," which has not been seen in competition yet.

Possibly out of concern to stay injury-free, Li did not participate in the vault in Stuttgart, which has only increased speculation about his new move.

China has held two World Cups, but this is the first time Li Xiaopeng will make an appearance. It is a great opportunity to test himself ahead of the Olympics.

(China Daily April 30, 2008)

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