Artistic gymnasts reverse slide in Games of redemption

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Buoyed by an eight-medal haul at the Tokyo Olympics, China's artistic gymnastics squad has set its sights on becoming the sport's dominant force once again.

Five years ago in Rio, Team China sunk to an all-time low on the artistic floor, finishing with just two bronzes. However, three golds, three silvers and two bronzes in Tokyo have given the team renewed belief it can return to the dizzy heights of the 2008 Beijing Games, when it amassed nine golds.

"We claimed victories in Tokyo and the situation has now reversed!" enthused team leader Miao Zhongyi.

"Everyone in the team has been thinking that we need to win in Tokyo. This is not just a slogan, but an actual goal that we have been striving for over the last five years.

"That goal kept motivating us to try our hardest. It has been a really tough five years in the build-up to the Games.

"After stepping down from the podium, all of our athletes need to start everything from zero. The Olympics has exposed many of our weaknesses, and we need to improve and strengthen for the future."

The focus now turns to the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou and the 2024 Paris Olympics

"After the Tokyo Games, we realized that, without absolute strength, it's very hard to have good results in major international events," said Miao. "What we must do is be stronger to challenge our rivals."

Liu Yang bagged Team China's first artistic gymnastics gold of Tokyo 2020 in the men's rings on Monday, when teammate You Hao took silver. A photo of Liu's steely gaze during competition went viral on social media, and was picked up by the official Olympics Twitter account, accompanied by the message: "How can someone look this cool whilst competing on the rings?"

"I have practiced artistic gymnastics for 20 years, and the Olympic gold medal is the best reward. I have encountered many setbacks, and I feel all my efforts have paid off now. I have been waiting for five years and I made it through. I'm a perfectionist and this is a perfect result," said the 26-year-old Liu.

Zou Jingyuan delivered the squad's second gold in the men's parallel bars.

"The Olympic gold medal proved I've been heading in the right direction for all these years. I have suffered too many difficulties and injuries, and luckily I have overcome them all," said the 23-year-old, who injured his shoulder during the men's team competition in Tokyo.

Teenager Guan Chenchen also topped the podium for China, beating American megastar Simone Biles, who wound up third, in the women's balance beam.

Rough start

China's artistic gymnastics medal haul is perhaps all the more impressive considering the team did not get off to an ideal start in Tokyo, only managing a bronze in the men's team final behind the first-place Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and Japan.

Two days later, Team China star Xiao Ruoteng claimed silver in the men's all-around final behind Daiki Hashimoto of Japan, sparking heated debate on social media among disappointed fans back home.

The squad's deputy team leader, Ye Zhennan, was not panicking and hailed Xiao's performance.

"Both our athletes, Xiao Ruoteng and Sun Wei (ranked fourth) produced great performances," Ye told China Central Television.

"After we lost the men's team gold, we were psyched up to go for a bigger victory in the men's all-around. They have all made great preparations and finished each discipline well.

"I believe our athletes showed true steel at the Olympics, and showcased their magnificent skills.

"And in terms of the final result, Xiao accepted it well and congratulated Daiki Hashimoto and Nikita Nagornyy (the ROC's bronze-medal winner) after the competition."

The 25-year-old Xiao has struggled with shoulder injuries throughout his career, while an elbow problem forced him to miss the 2016 Rio Games.

In his Olympic debut in Tokyo, Xiao took home three medals-men's all-around silver, and bronzes in the men's floor exercise and the men's team competition.

The Beijinger could not hide his frustration at missing out on a gold.

"I will never forget my journey in Tokyo. In the men's team final, we really hoped to stand on the highest podium. So it's a pity that we had such a result," Xiao, who has won three world titles, told China Sports Daily.

"In the men's all-around, I tried my best to give all I have and show the level I had in training… but I have stood on the podium and at least achieved a goal."

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