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Li Xiaopeng (China)
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)
Li Xiaopeng
Birth Name 李小鵬
Discipline Men's Artistic Gymnastics
Date/Place of Birth July 27, 1981/Changsha, Hunan Province
Residence Beijing
Coached by Chen Xiong
Official Web site China Gymnastics Association
Notable Results

Team AA
2008 Tianjin World Cup             1 2
2008 Cottbus World Cup             1 3
2006 DTB Cup             1  
2006 World Cup Final             1  
2005 World Championships             2  
2004 Olympic Games 5         7 3  
2003 World Championships 1       1   1 5
2002 World Championships         1   1  
2000 Olympic Games 1   5       1  
1999 World Championships 1         1    
1997 World Championships 1   3       2  

After recurrent ankle injuries sidelined him for over two years, Li Xiaopeng is now back for his third Olympics, where he is a gold medal favorite on parallel bars and with the Chinese team. Li is already a gymnastics legend in China and was the face of Chinese gymnastics from 2000-2004, starring in commercials for McDonald's, Pepsi, Budweiser and more. In 2006 Li achieved his dream of surpassing his childhood idol, the legendary gymnast Li Ning, in the total number of world titles won. Li Ning had long held the Chinese gymnast record for 13 in total, while Li Xiaopeng now has 14. But Li is still hungry for more, especially after the disappointing low of 2004 Athens.

Li hails from Changsha, Hunan, a historical hotbed for Chinese gymnastics (and home to Chinese gymnastics greats Chen Cuiting, Lu Li, Liu Xuan, Ling Jie and Yang Yun). He first announced his arrival on the international scene in 1997, when he took home a gold with his team and silver on parallel bars at the Lausanne World Championships — all at the tender age of 16.

Soon after 1997 Worlds, Li suffered an elbow injury which didn't heal properly and left lingering effects in his elbow muscles. As a consequence, he has never been able to train pommel horse thereafter or develop into an all-arounder. Still, Li managed to pick up more than enough hardware for his other events. From 1998 thru 2006, Li went on to win eleven more titles at World Championships and World Cup Finals, in addition to two Olympic golds at the 2000 Games in Sydney.

Even on the star-studded Chinese men's team, Li is a rare species talent-wise — he is known for training half as much as his teammates yet repeatedly outperforming them in competition. On both the parallel bars and vault, Li has original elements named after him in the Code of Points. Teammates attest that Li is a "genius" who "trains more with his mind" than with his body.

The gregarious Li loves playing video games, learning English and knows how to have a good time. At the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim, he insisted on going sightseeing and touring Disneyland before the competition began. Li promised coaches it would help him relax. And it paid off: he won three gold medals (on vault, parallel bars and with the team), the most of any gymnast there. It was also in Anaheim, while training at South Coast Gymnastics, that Li first met his girlfriend, Angel Li, a former gymnast and daughter of South Coast owners (and 1984 Olympians for China) Li Xiaoping and Jia Wen. After observing him in training and competition, Wen gushed about Li Xiaopeng being "a gymnast who comes around once a century."

Nagging ankle and foot injuries left Li in an all-time low throughout and following the 2004 Olympics. He had headed to Athens with high expectations, both internal and external, for gold in the team, parallel bars, and vault events, but left with only one bronze on parallel bars. In early 2005 Li traveled to Anaheim at the invitation of South Coast Gymnastics and sought medical expertise in the U.S. He wrestled with whether to get surgery, but pressures of winning gold at the 10th National Games and 2005 World Championships kept him away from surgery. At the November 2005 Worlds in Melbourne, Li performed a flawless routine on parallel bars, sans the landing — which again he could not stick. Another world title slipped away, and his severe foot injury only worsened. A dejected Li flew directly to Anaheim following Melbourne and sought further medical treatment from American doctors. Under the care of South Coast Gymnastics' Liand Wen, Li's spirits improved and he finally brought back his medical records to Beijing for surgery in January 2006.

Li's post-surgery comeback has not been easy though. He questioned the chances of his body holding up. Li also admitted that many times during rehabilitation he "didn't see where the motivation was to carry on." But his girlfriend flew to China to encourage him, and national team coaches hired a team of physical therapists and sports medicine professionals just to monitor his progress.

At the World Cup Final in December 2006, Li won gold on parallel bars and made a strong comeback statement. He was then slated to compete at the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, but fractured toes from a fall on floor exercise earlier that spring derailed those plans. He went through another phase of rehabilitation and re-emerged — victoriously — on the spring 2008 World Cup circuit. This time though, Li is ready — and playing safely. He no longer trains two vaults (to protect his foot), but is focused on parallel bars and bringing home the team gold.

— Lisa Wang