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China’a National Champion…He Ning
Being the national champion for the Olympic gold medal-winning team is always a big deal. And considering how incredible the Chinese women’s team was in 2008, their national all-around champion is sure to be one to watch out for on in the all-around on the world stage. China’s two all-around stars from Beijing – Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin – would still be considered by most to be two of the favorites in the all-around at this year’s world championships in London. However, Yang has been injured and didn’t compete at their nationals, and Jiang Yuyuan – after a stellar preliminary performance – fell apart on the uneven bars as well as her beam dismount in the all-around finals. The door was open for a new champion to emerge, and ironically, it wasn’t one of the 2008 Olympic veterans who stepped in to seize the title. It was one of the “quiet” ones who has always played a supporting role for the Chinese team, but typically surrenders the individual spotlight to her more flashy teammates.
He Ning did get to stand atop the the medal podium with her Chinese teammates in 2006 at the World Championships. Although she finished a solid 20th place in the all-around in preliminaries, she didn’t advance to the all-around finals because of the 2-per-country rule. Since she didn’t qualify for any event finals, her more famous teammates like 2004 Olympians Cheng Fei and Zhang Nan, along with all-around finalists Pang Panpan and Zhou Zhuoru, stole most of the attention. In 2007, the Chinese delegation placed their trust in her again by sending her to the world championships again, this time with a host of individual medal contenders – veteran world champion Cheng Fei and several new hot shots…Jiang Yuyuan, Yang Yilin, Li Shanshan, and Xiao Sha. He Ning contributed solid scores on vault, bars, and beam, but this time, their loaded squad couldn’t quite hold off the powerful American regime, who regained their world team title from 2003. Again, He Ning watched as all of her world teammates went on to individual success…Cheng Fei won vault again, Li Shanshan won silver on beam, Yang Yilin won bronze on bars and placed 6th all-around, Xiao Sha placed 7th all-around, and Jiang Yuyuan placed 4th on floor. He Ning was left cheering them on from the sidelines.
So when new uneven bars sensation He Kexin emerged in 2008, it probably wasn’t much of a surprise that He Ning was the one left off the Olympic squad. Although she probably would have made almost any other team in the world, with a team full of Olympic gold-medal contenders, He Ning suddenly drifted out of the picture. As China put together its most powerful team ever and won their first Olympic gold in history, He Ning was left watching from home. That’s why it was probably a refreshing surprise to many when she not only reemerged at their recent nationals, but that she finally seized the individual spotlight that she’s always been forced to yield. The one who was always in the shadows is now a national champion, and perhaps a serious individual world threat for the first time.
Let’s take a look at three of her routines from their national championships!
He Ning UB 2009 Chinese Nationals
Wow! Awesome jam to handstand at the beginning, great Ono to a handstand, and spectacular double layout full out! We don’t see many Chinese gymnasts do that dismount, and she nailed it with authority.
He Ning BB 2009 Chinese Nationals
Cool double turn! It’s nice to see something besides the standard over-turned leg-up full turn with a wobble that we see from 90% of the gymnasts these days. Overall this was a very confident and solid routine, and appears to be very consistent for her.
He Ning FX 2009 Chinese Nationals
Very confident and great choreography…and yes, that was a quad turn at the beginning! That was undoubtedly the best floor routine she has ever done. She may not have the strongest tumbling, but she makes up for it with how well she sells it and with some awesome turns.   The thing I like most about her is that she doesn’t do all of the typical Chinese routines; she has some unique skills like the Jam and double layout full out off bars, the double turn on beam, and the quad turn on floor.  That’s really refreshing to see.  I don’t have her vault, but I’ve never seen her throw anything harder than a Yurchenko 1 ½, and I’d be surprised if she could do a double. So that event is probably still holding her back a little, but if she remains this confident, they certainly may consider her for world in an all-around spot. The main thing hurting her this year is that she doesn’t really appear to be a medal contender on any event, but she could possible be a contender in the all-around. I’d still say that Huang Quishuang is a better gymnast (and especially considering vault), so it’s tough to say whether or not we’ll see He Ning at worlds this year. But hopefully she’ll stick around and contend for the full world championships next year and possible beyond. There’s no question she looks better than ever though, and probably seeking some revenge from last year.