China's world-beaters raise the bar

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eam China's Zou Jingyuan performs during the parallel bars final at the Artistic World Gymnastics Championships in Liverpool, England on Sunday. The Olympic champion produced an almost flawless display to win gold despite raising the difficulty of his routine.[Photo/Xinhua]

With the bar raised high by Zou Jingyuan's near-flawless display on Sunday, Team China was left to reflect on a confidence-boosting campaign at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships that points to more success at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

After stomping a dazzling routine on the parallel bars to rousing applause, defending champion Zou wrapped up Team China's championships in style with a third gold, and fifth medal in total, at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool, England on Sunday.

China also topped the podium in the men's team and women's uneven bars events.

Despite the proud moments, the team is more concerned with learning from the slips and falls in England as it beefs up preparations for Paris 2024, according to delegation leader Ye Zhennan.

"Our overall performance deserves a lot of credit but it's the problems that have been exposed during the competitions that we should care about more," Ye told China Central Television on Monday.

"The overall consistency and quality of our routines, the landing of jumps of the men's squad, the depth of our women's team and the girls' lack of competitiveness in floor exercise and vault are weaknesses that we need to work on harder and improve quicker," said Ye, who is a deputy director of China's gymnastics administrative center.

"We still have a lot of fixes to make and catching up to do in the buildup to Paris. The road to the next Olympic Games won't be a smooth sail."

Ranked second on the championships' medal table behind the United States (eight medals in total), Team China maintained its traditional prowess on the men's side, highlighted by Zou's showstopping performance on the parallel bars on the final day of the meet.

As the defending Olympic gold medalist on the apparatus, Zou proved his supremacy in difficulty and style on the bars by landing the highest score of any finals in Liverpool with 16.166 points to capture a record-tying third title in the discipline at the worlds.

Germany's two-time Olympian Lukas Dauser finished a distant second with 15.500 points, while the Philippines' Carlos Yulo bagged bronze (15.366).

"It was a challenging competition and I was quite satisfied with my performances overall," said Zou, who also finished with the highest individual score in the same event on Nov 2 to help China claim a record-extending 13th men's team gold at the worlds.

Zou, however, feels he had plenty left in the locker.

"This is the first time I did this 6.9-difficulty routine," said the 24-year-old native of Sichuan province. "At first, I just wanted to stick with the original plan, use the 6.5 difficulty and perform it perfectly.

"But I decided to switch to the harder routine as the level of competition increased … This is not all I have in my pocket though. I have some other skills that could raise my difficulty if I need them, and knowing this consolidates my confidence for Paris."

Wide-eyed Filipino star Yulo couldn't help but marvel at Zou's level.

"He is not human," said Yulo, who also won silver in vault. "How he does parallel bars is not equal to anyone. He's the only one doing that... To me, he's like a god."

China's legendary gymnast Zou Kai is another of Zou Jingyuan's fans.

"His domination on the bars remains as strong as ever," said Zou Kai, who won a record five gold medals in the sport across Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

"His routine execution is textbook quality. His opponent is himself. Yet he still has potential to keep improving his difficulty, which is quite exciting."

The emergence of younger talent Zhang Boheng, runner-up in men's all-around, and Yang Jiaxing, who made his worlds debut in Liverpool, bodes well for the men's team's future prospects after testing themselves against tough rivals from Japan and the US.

There was more concern on the women's side, however, with a young, nervy and injury-plagued squad failing to deliver on several occasions.

During the balance beam final on Sunday, teenager Ou Yushan fell to sixth after finishing an error-strewn routine, despite advancing from the qualifiers top of the rankings.

"I felt quite regretful that I didn't demonstrate my best," said Ou, who is still recovering from ankle surgery she underwent at the end of last year. "I take a lot of positives though from my first experience competing at the world championships which matter more than the results."

Another teen star, Wei Xiaoyuan, delivered the women's team's only gold by winning the uneven bars on Saturday. Wei overcame a high-class field, including defending Olympic champion Nina Derwael of Belgium, to register 14.966 points and retain her world title.

Yang Yilin, a member of the gold-winning women's team at Beijing 2008, urged that the results in Liverpool should be kept in perspective.

"For an athlete of her age who is not yet fully healthy, it's already excellent to be in the final," said Yang, an uneven bars specialist who retired in 2013.

"I hope they can come back stronger after a thorough review. The future of Chinese gymnastics rests on their shoulders."

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