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China Daily Website

Gymnastic family second to none

Yang Xinwei ( China Daily )

Some people think the Guo family of Harbin should be in the Guinness Book of World Records. Often called "Guojiadui" or national team, because their family name is Guo, meaning "nation," they have won a total of 140 international and national gymnastic titles.

The father, Guo Shuzeng, won the national all-around championship in 1959, and was later selected for the national team. His wife, Suo Huiqi, was ranked second on the balance beam in the country in 1961 and 1962, but never joined the national team because she had to take care of her family.

The couple's four children have won gold medals at the last three Asian Games and competed on national teams.

The family's oldest son, Guo Linsheng, 26, helped the Chinese gymnasts win the team title at the 1982 Asian Games. Meanwhile his wife, gymnast He Xiuming, helped the women's team win the gold and won the all-around title for herself.

Guo Linxian, 25, was on the national men's team when it won the 1986 Asian Games team title and the World Championships team silver medal. His wife Wang Huiying was on the women's team when it took the 1986 Asiad team title and she also won two individual apparatus titles - the vault and the floor exercises.

The Guos' only daughter, Guo Linhong, never made the national team, but representing the army team won 10 titles in international tournaments in 1983 in Greece and Finland. She is now a coach in Harbin with her parents.

The youngest member of the family, Guo Linyue, 18, earned two gold medals at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games on the pommel horse and the parallel bars, and finished second in the all-around.

The Guos started training their four children when they were very young.

"Many people can't believe the training we put our children through," said Suo Huiqi. "We devoted all our ability, wits and energy to gymnastics."

The Guos live in a crowded two-room apartment in the backyard of the Harbin sports training campus and work 12 to 13 hours a day.

"We have been unknown heroes for a long time. We know the local sports commission's difficulties. Other people also have to live like this. We have never presented any demands to our superiors," Suo said in their room which shakes when a train passes less than 20 feet away.

It is no wonder that when Linyue would call home from the Asian Games Village in Beijing he would ask, "Have we been allotted a new apartment? Do I still have to sleep on the floor?" Suo says the family will be moving soon.

The lack of attention to their comfort comes from the fact that the local sports commission focuses on winter sports.

With an eight-year age gap, the Guos married in 1963 when they were still in the prime of their careers. "We had to stop our athletic careers early because our teams would not let athletes date," Suo said.

"When we married, we were very poor. We had nothing except what we wore, and I didn't even know how much he earned."

Even now their home does not have any furniture. What the 19-square-metre apartment has are medals and cups.

"After leaving competition, we became coaches, but we never thought we would bring up our children to be world and Asian champions.

"It's true we influenced them as they often came to the gyms to watch. What we did was to develop their interest and lead them to the world level."

"One thing we're sure of is that you should never have too high hopes for your children. Too high hopes often make you disappointed," Suo said.

"Our children used to call us 'coach' instead of mother and father, and sometimes they still do," Suo said with a smile.

"But our relationship with our children has been very harmonious, though unlike other parents, we never gave them a comfortable life," Suo said. "But we all were fighting for the same goal."

While many gymnasts are selected for the national team, like their youngest son Guo Linyue, their other two sons made the team through competition.

The Army Sports Institute accepted them and the two fought their way to the national team by winning national and international tournaments.

While Linyue is now working for the world championship title, his parents, his two brothers and his sister are working to bring up more Asian and world champions. Linsheng is a coach with the national team and Linzian coaches the army team while his parents and sister continue to work with gymnasts in Harbin.

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