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Li Ya Blogs from Beijing!
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IG brings you an unprecedented, exclusive insider view of the Games from one of China's own — 2004 Olympian, 2006 world champion and multiple World Cup champion Li Ya.
Li Ya leaps on balance beam at the 2004 Olympic Games

Li is the only Chinese woman to have two skills on the uneven bars named after her in the Code of Points: the Jaeger ½ + Jaeger release-release combination, named the "Li Ya salto," which China's He Kexin now uses as her signature skill on bars; and the "Li Ya dismount," which will be performed in Beijing only by world uneven bars champion Ksenia Semyonova of Russia. In 2006 Li first debuted the "Li Ya salto" on the World Cup circuit, and to date Li and He remain the only two gymnasts to successfully perform that combination in competition. Li is also known for her unique, graceful style on balance beam, an event on which she won the 2006 World Cup Final title.

On the Chinese national team, Li, He and another 2008 Olympian for China, Li Shanshan, all trained in the same group, under coaches Liu Guicheng and He Hua.

Li recently retired from the national team but intends to stay involved in the sport, through exhibitions, coaching and more. She is also studying English with hopes of continuing her education and gymnastics pursuits in the U.S.

During these Olympics, Li will blog exclusively for IG (with translation by IG's Lisa Wang) and share her perspectives direct from Beijing. Li also welcomes questions and comments from readers throughout these Games. If you'd like a chance for your question to be selected and answered here, please leave a comment below.

Sunday, Aug. 10th

Having competed for China at the Olympics just four years ago, I couldn't help but feel a bit emotional watching the women's competition in Beijing. We all know that all eyes are on USA and China this time. In the preliminaries, our Chinese team's performance still fell short of our true potential. Even though we topped the team rankings, you can say it was almost an average performance ... we definitely didn't perform at the highest level we are capable of and have a lot more to show the world.

Deng Linlin

Opening on beam today, Yang Yilin got the job done. Beam is her weakest event but today she basically hit everything she's capable of. Cheng Fei then proved what a tough competitor she is now — absolutely nothing rattles her now. Her performance mirrored her level in training, with very few deviations. As for Deng Linlin, she definitely didn't perform on par with her potential on beam, even though there were no falls. It's her first-ever major international meet, and clearly you could notice the hesitation in her execution; some of her skills just weren't done with resoluteness or executed with full extension ... but it was interesting the judges still scored her favorably. She is definitely capable of more on that event. Li Shanshan's beam routine finally lived up to everyone's expectations! Our coaches and delegation leaders will be more than satisfied this time. Her score confirms how she truly is one of a kind on beam; her ability on that event absolutely tops the world (even if everyone else performs to their maximum ability).

Now, onto Team USA's beam. I thought the Americans as a whole did quite well on beam — on par with expectations; no costly mistakes whatsoever. However, one can't deny that there's a sizable gap between U.S. and China's collective ability and maximum scoring potential on that event. It's apparent from the start values, even though the prelims final scores might have showed otherwise. I don't think Team USA lacks in high-difficulty tricks. Not at all. In fact, I think they do a lot of high-difficulty elements — but just not well-connected in smooth sequence and not in a creative way that capitalizes on connection bonus. Routine composition, in my experience, is the key difference between USA and China on beam. The Chinese place heavy emphasis on routine composition — not just throwing difficult tricks one by one, but coming up with ingenuous connections and paying close attention to flow, sequence of elements, and overall aesthetic appeal of the routine as a whole. If the U.S. can improve on their routine compositions, I think their scores will match the Chinese.

On floor exercise, USA didn't do too well — multiple out-of-bounds, execution not too clean. Cheng Fei on that event was in a league of her own though. If she performs like that in event finals, the gold has got to be hers. Jiang Yuyuan's floor has improved rather quickly and she is indisputably China's No. 2 strongest on floor.

He Kexin

Now, watching uneven bars was heart-wrenching. Especially He Kexin. The main reason behind Kexin's fall is still a lack of major international competition experience. So when you're suddenly at the Olympics, you feel this rush and excitement that's hard to control; you feel more strength/power in your body than usual and when you do a skill, you're more prone to put in too much power which leads to over-doing the skill ... in Kexin's case some of her releases were almost too high this time ... the key for her will be learning to control that power in the upcoming days. In training, Kexin has an extremely high hit ratio. Even when our country's President visited the training center, she hit her routine cold in front of him.

Another factor that I think has inevitably affected Kexin is the recent illness and absence of her coach. About a month ago, her primary female coach [Coach Bao Xianqin], the one who's been looking after her training as well as life outside the gym, fell ill and has been on sick leave. So with that coach suddenly absent during the final leg of her pre-Olympic preparations, Kexin's training and dorm life just haven't been as systematic or organized as before. Kexin is still lucky to have made it into the event final though. She'll still her perform her 7.7-value set in finals and I hope she hits it there! Yang Yilin also has a 7.7 A-score set — she did pretty well in qualifications and also has high hopes of medaling in the event final.

Personally, I'm a big fan of Nastia Liukin's bars. Unfortunately, the top two American bar workers [Liukin and Chellsie Memmel] both faltered in prelims, but Liukin is lucky like He Kexin in that she still qualified to finals. She has a 7.7 A-score, just like He Kexin and Yang Yilin. It's always been a hope of mine to compete head-to-head with Liukin in a bars final. That match played out many times in my head, but unfortunately it didn't happen in reality. To me, Liukin is an original. Her quality of execution and body lines are first-class, but her routine composition is also dynamic and interesting — such a rich variety of skills and connections all smoothly stringed together. She has her own unique style and represents a whole different direction of developing difficulty on bars under the new Code of Points. I feel like I can relate to her because both of us took major risks and were the first ones to push bars in new, albeit different, directions — she represents one "school of movement" with her unique style, while my bars more or less ushered in a different style or "school of movement." But I feel that we helped set the stage for the ultra-high difficulty we now see on bars in 2008. So whenever I watch her, I feel like she and I share something in common which most other athletes don't have, which is having pioneered your own unique style and pushed bars in a new direction. That's why I'm rooting for Liukin to win this Olympic title on bars.

On vault, as expected, Cheng Fei is China's sole qualifier to finals. As long as no major mistakes happen, Cheng Fei will be competing against herself. She has such absolute superiority and an already established reputation on vault that her position in the world is unshakable. I think Alicia [Sacramone] is also great on vault, but her start values are lower than Cheng Fei's.

Li Ya on balance beam at the 2004 Olympic Games

My thoughts on the upcoming finals ....

Women's team final will be one fierce battle till the last second for sure. China has a clear lead in A-scores, while Team USA has more seasoned competitors and traditionally higher consistency. It's really impossible to say who has the overall edge.

But for the women's all-around final, I personally feel the two American girls have a slight edge overall. Shawn [Johnson] is one formidable all-arounder. I hope she has the meet of her life. Of all the women's titles at these Games (team, all-around, and the four individual events), I think the individual all-around is probably the more secure one for the U.S. China's Yang Yilin and Jiang Yuyuan are also strong contenders for top three, but for the all-around gold I'd bet on an American girl.

If everyone hits their routines come bars final, it'll be a close call between Kexin and Liukin. He Kexin, Yang Yilin, and Liukin all have 7.7 A-scores, and I believe Britain's Beth Tweddle has a 7.8. But Tweddle's form is lacking in spite of the highest A-score. Yang Yilin's overall routine composition and skill selection don't quite stand out compared to Kexin and Liukin. It'll be an exciting showdown though — we'd have to see how well everyone hits.

Balance beam gold is really Li Shanshan's to lose. If she makes no major mistakes, the gold ought to be hers. Even when everyone hits to the maximum of their ability, there's still an undeniable gap between Li Shanshan's level and that of the American girls or finalists from other countries

On vault, Cheng Fei is in a league of her own, while on floor, I still think she's the No. 1 favorite for gold. The American girls are also strong contenders on that event, but anyone winning the floor title will have to depend on mistakes from Cheng Fei.

Comment below and let Li Ya know what you think of her first blog! Ask a question and she will try to answer it in a future entry.

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