Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun dropped out of the sky (Part 1)…

Usually we’ve at least heard of a gymnast before he or she bursts onto the world scene on a powerhouse team like Russia or China. And in this day and age, we can just about always go back in retrospect and find videos of such a gymnast before he or she made that first world or Olympic team. We can usually find videos of him or her as a junior gymnast or at least of some competitions before the gymnast became fully ready to represent one of the best teams in the world on the actual world stage. Not so with Yang Yun or Dong Fangxiao.

Dong Fangxiao was a member of the 1999 world championship team that edged Ukraine by less than 0.1 to win the bronze medal in their home country (Tianjin, China). In fact, this team was less than one point away from the gold-medal winning Romanian team. All members of the Chinese team that showed up in Tianjin were known at that time, except for one.

· Liu Xiuan, the team leader, was a veteran of four world championships and the 1996 Olympic Games.

Ling Jie had been turning heads for her phenomenal abilities on bars and beam since 1997.

Huang Mandan had showcased one of the best bar routines in the world at the 1998 Pacific Alliance Championships.

Xu Jing had established herself as China’s most powerful tumbler and vaulter at the 1998 Asian Games.

Bai Chunyue had been predicted by most to make the team after her incredible coming out party at the International Team Championships earlier that year.

And then there was Dong Fangxiao.

And then there was Dong Fangxiao.

This surprising fresh face was not only completely unknown…she was the best gymnast on the team.

Dong shocked many by leading her team to the bronze medal, finishing 5th overall in the preliminaries and scoring over a 9.7 on both beam and floor to qualify for the event finals on each.  She ended up an impressive 6th place in the all-around finals and placed 7th on beam and 4th on floor.

Here’s a look at her routines from that competition:

Dong Fangxiao Beam 1999 Worlds

Dong Fangxiao Floor 1999 Worlds

Dong Fangxiao Bars 1999 Worlds

Dong Fangxiao Vault 1999 Worlds

What an impressive gymnast she was.  As long as she remained healthy, she would undoubtedly be one of the gymnasts representing China at the 2000 Olympic Games, where she was sure to contend for medals on at least beam, bars, and in the all-around.

Sure enough, Dong made the 2000 Olympic Team, and although her team did win the bronze medal, her dreams of individual Olympic glory weren’t meant to be.  She qualified for the all-around final in 9th place – behind her unknown teammate Yang Yun in 6th – and this time made the finals on vault and floor.  A disastrous performance in the all-around left Dong in a dismal 25th place, and lackluster performances in the finals landed her in 7th on vault and 6th on floor.

Dong Fangxiao Beam 2000 Olympics All-Around Finals

Dong Fangxiao Vault 2000 Olympics Event Finals

Dong competed for one more year, and showed up at the 2001 East Asian Games looking better than ever:

Dong Fangxiao Beam 2001 East Asian Games

Dong Fangxiao Floor 2001 East Asian Games

What an incredible full twist on beam!  And aside from just a double full dismount on floor, her tumbling and dance skills were clearly among the best in the world.  Unfortunately, Dong left the international scene as mysteriously as she came.  She was never seen in major competition again.

It wasn’t until seven years later that rumors began to circulate about this former star’s real age….which brings us back to the original question of this post:Where in the world did she come from?

Next we’ll take a look at a curiously similar story involving the other gymnast in the midst of the age falsification controversy….2000 Olympian Yang Yun.