Olympic gymnastics title contenders suddenly have one more thing to worry about other than the eight gold medals China claimed at the Tianjin World Cup last week. Her name is He Kexin.
The 16-year-old newcomer to the national team, who was recruited last year, has raised a lot of eyebrows recently after she broke two world records on the uneven bars in as many months. She will be just one more weapon on an already star-studded Chinese Olympic squad.
The Wuhan native brought her dazzling show to Tianjin, scoring 17.200 points in her routine on May 14. That broke the previous record of 16.850, which she set a month ago at the Cottbus World Cup.
With less than 80 days until the Beijing Olympics, where Chinese gymnasts will be among the medal favorites, He hopes to win China its first uneven bars gold medal in 16 years.
He Kexin of China performs during the uneven bars event at the World Cup in Tianjin on May 15. Xinhua
"Many people say we are short of talent on the uneven bars or that we lag behind the Americans, but that's not true," He said in Tianjin. "I can't wait to go out and prove them wrong."
"The high score I had this time surprised me too, but I am not thinking about keeping it at the Games. I want to get an even higher score to beat all my rivals in August."
China's previous uneven bars gold came in 1992 when Lu Li dominated the Barcelona Games. That was the first one since "Uneven-Bars Princess" Ma Yanhong won one at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
A complete team
National team head coach Huang Yubin said with the emergence of He, China is finally a complete team.
"He not only brings China another chance for a gold medal, she shows the world we are an all-around team that is able to compete against the best teams in the world," the coach said.
"She is the best athlete on uneven bars that I have seen in 20 years. The talent is here, now what we need to do is tell her how to manage it."
He won her first national title at the Chinese City Games last year, leading Huang to draft her onto the national team a month later. She went on to win two consecutive World Cup titles this year in Doha and Cottbus.
With a string of titles and record-breaking scores, He is sending warnings to one of her team's main rivals, American gymnast Nastia Liukin, who has won four World Championships titles, including three on the balance beam and one on the uneven bars.
"My target is to beat her at the Olympics," He said. "She is definitely the most dangerous gymnast in the world, but I am confident I can keep her away from the gold medal as long as I can perform at my highest level."
Despite being among the most favored Chinese athletes in Athens, the women's team finished in a humiliating seventh place there four years ago. It was the team's worst performance since 1988, as it won only one gold and two bronze gymnastics medals.
The team did bounce back in 2006 when it took the top prize in the team event at the World Championships in Denmark.
The five-member Olympic roster won't be released until July, but He is one of the favorites to make it, said women's coach Lu Shanzhen.
But one thing is for sure - Cheng Fei, who won titles in the vault, floor exercise and balance beam in Tianjin, will be the leader of the team.
Cheng became China's most successful female gymnast at the World Championships in Denmark, defending her vault crown and helping China take the team title out of the hands of the defending champion United States.
Cheng is confident China will be able to reverse its underachiever image in Beijing.
"I am sure Chinese gymnasts will come back and win back our glories," she said. "The wins at the World Championships and recent World Cups have given us more experience and determination."
The Tianjin World Cup also gave some momentum to the men's team, which saw the successful comeback of former Olympic gold medalist Li Xiaopeng.
After being sidelined for the last two years with injuries, the 27-year-old Li won gold on the parallel bars and silver on the horizontal bar.
But Chinese coach Huang warned it was not yet time for celebration.
"There is nothing to cheer about," Huang said. "Some of the world's best athletes did not come while most of them in Tianjin were not competitive enough.
"We should not be too optimistic ahead of the Olympics."
(China Daily 05/23/2008 page23)