Yang Yilin speaks

Chinas Yang Yilin celebrates a victory earlier this year.

China's Yang Yilin celebrates a victory earlier this year.

In the wake of the age controversy with the Chinese gymnasts, Yang Yilin’s statements to the press after winning the all-around bronze last night paint one of the worst pictures yet of Chinese training and social life of the national team.

An opinionated column from the Associated Press:

Unlike [Shawn] Johnson, who arrived later, obviously delighted with her medal, Yang displayed little outward emotion. She smiled obediently, all small teeth, when reporters asked her to pose for photos. Her little mouth pursed again when the lenses were turned away.

Perhaps Yang is shy by nature. But, really, she just seems to have been sheltered by the Chinese coaches who direct her life.

“For the drug test,” coach Liu Qunlin said, passing Yang a bottle of water so she would be able to provide a sample for the dope-testers.

Chinas Yang Yilin performs on uneven bars.

China's Yang Yilin performs on uneven bars.

Then, a little hesitantly, Yang started to answer the questions. And the more she said, the more shocking it was. The answers were brief, spoken without heart. What emerged was a picture of a young girl who has been kept largely cut off from family and the outside world for more than a year, so she could be intensely trained to win medals for China at its own Olympics.

Were your parents here to see you compete, among the cheering crowds?

“I don’t know.”

When was the last time you went home?”

“Ummm … before I joined the national team,” Yang said, her small voice hard to hear.

When was that?

“More than a year ago.”

Will you go on holiday after the games?

“I don’t know.”

How many holidays do you get a year?

“I have not had a holiday since I joined the national team.”

This from a girl who won a gold medal two nights ago and a bronze — tying the best China’s ever done — in the all-around.

Granted, there are documented occasions when the Chinese team obviously does have fun. Youtube Chinese New Year’s celebrations involve members of the national team dressing in drag and doing all sorts of silly skits. It’s kids being kids, like it should be.

2007 Chinese New Year Pig Skit:

At the same time, there are obvious ethical questions (among westerners, anyway) about whether subjecting girls/young women to such rigorous training, taking them away from their homes, giving them limited schooling, etc, etc.

Hopefully as an Olympic gold and bronze medalist (and possibly more — she’s got a good shot of getting another medal in the uneven bars final), Yang’s government will treat her and her family a little better. Liu Xuan and Ling Jie went to University after winning their medals in Sydney. Zhang Nan was gifted a house after her all-around bronze in Athens. All except Liu, already a two-time Olympian at age 21, chose to continue competing.

Did they choose? If Yang Yilin wanted to leave the national team, would it really be her decision?

When questions turned to what Yang might like to do after sports, the coach interjected.

“It’s too soon,” she said. “She hasn’t done enough gymnastics yet.”

Then, after a few final questions, the curtain closed again.

“Let her rest a little,” the coach said, cutting the moment short.

And to Yang: “Drink some water.”


25 Responses to “Yang Yilin speaks”

  1. M. Says:

    I’m just a spectator to gymnastics with no real knowledge of the participating gymnasts or the judging system, but I have been running into purportedly “experienced” gymnastics fans who claim that the US has plenty of 13/14 year olds that would have been able to match the (potentially) underage Chinese gymnasts. They claim that this is why they were so furious with the Chinese win. Who, exactly, are these 13/14 year old American gymnasts that “match” the Chinese? Or are these people pulling this from their a**es? I wouldn’t know, either way.

  2. M. Says:


    I’d also like to chip in my two cents as a Chinese-born American.

    Nearly all of the athletes in China’s sports academies are from peasant families, who exchange their kids for a shot at an easier life. For many impoverished families, especially villagers, the two easiest ways to climb the social ladder is to either join the army like my father did (a solid, sureshot way) or take a gamble with a sports training camp (with higher risks yielding higher rewards).

    The athlete’s family is set for life if they make it to international competition level and the athlete automatically gains test-free admission to China’s top universities like Peking and Tsinghua on top of bonuses from the government that far surpass the lifetime earnings of a well-off Chinese citizen.

    Yes, the conditions at the sports academies are probably abusive and definitely grueling, but again it’s a trade-off. I feel bad for these kids…but then I realize that, had they not been entered into gymnastics, they would probably be another continuation of the poverty cycle (as I would have been if my father had not left his village to joi the army). Again, the children at the training camps are usually from the most desperate families.

  3. Colleen Says:

    Rebecca Bross, Sam Shapiro, Jordyn Weiber, Kamerin Moore.

    Nastia could have easily beaten Carly Patterson in 2004, and helped the team win the Gold instead of silver… but she was 2 months shy of the age limit.

  4. becca Says:

    [Quote]Rebecca Bross, Sam Shapiro, Jordyn Weiber, Kamerin Moore [/Quote]

    Bross is an excellent gymnast but is weak on bars where we need help. Jordyn doesn’t add anything at this point that we don’t already have. As for Sam, she’s very talented but also VERY INCONSISTENT on bars. She’s inconsistent on bar routines that are way lower in difficulty than what the Chinese girls are doing. The US IMO has no one up coming on bars who can make up for the Chinese bars superstars.

    As for this article on Yang Yilin. It’s in many ways unfair. From what I’ve heard Yang Yilin is extremely painfully shy. And honestly who says she’s unhappy? There are plenty of pictures of Yang Yilin smiling..

  5. Colleen Says:

    Chellsie took care of our bar problems. But any of those girls could have been used on floor and vault. Especially Bross or Weiber. And I think that Bross definitely has potential on bars. And since she’s a WOGA girl, she’s probably working on more difficulty.

    Nobody except Nastia can really touch the Chinese girls on bars. But we can make up ground on other events.

  6. Skyler Says:

    how is that spoken without a heart? i don’t get it. she is just a really shy girl and i think the american press are always so critical of the chinese and that’s so sickening.

    it’s making me sad.

  7. M. Says:

    “People” like those at the International Gymnastics Forum are claiming these things. I was just curious as to whom so that I could keep an eye on them for 2009.

    Either put up or shut up. The US should lodge a formal inquiry to strip China of its medals instead of muck raking around. If the Chinese are underage (which I believe they are), then they should face the consequences.

  8. jermm Says:

    yang yilin is extremely shy. you can see her laughing with her teammates on the sidelines all the time. and no, i don’t think she had a sniper fixed on her while she was doing it.

  9. Deet Says:

    Yang always looks a bit strained when she’s smiling…but you have to remember that she’s either smiling with hundreds of cameras trained on her or smiling in the middle of a competition. Neither are comfortable places for her to really let loose.

    You also have to groom the article for the American press’s confirmation bias, which can be all too obvious at times.

  10. bettycoltrane Says:

    …the only way Nastia could have done anything in Athens is if she’d added a full twist to that Gienger.

  11. Isis Says:

    Anyway, I think Yang Yilin is simply painfully shy. She’s a great gymnast though, I’m very glad she got a medal. 🙂 I hope she medals in the UB EF as well. I don’t want her to get the gold though: the gold should go to her team-mate He Kexin!

  12. Blythe Says:

    This is the first time I’ve deleted comments — I believe five comments from three different posters were erased entirely (including one simply requesting that the posters just be nice.) Three other comments were edited to include only parts that pertained to the subject at hand, which is gymnastics. Please keep it about gymnastics, but keep the comments coming!

  13. TCO Says:

    Blythe: It’s all my fault. I DO APPRECIATE your previous light hand. I’m sorry for popping the cherry of trolling here.

  14. TCO Says:

    On topic: I’m basically resigned to Chinese cheating. Seriously, I got my angst over it out before the competition. At this point, I’m not even excited. Can’t be that stirred up by the M-like trolling.

  15. M. Says:

    I wasn’t trolling. You completely misinterpreted what I was trying to say. I apologize if it came across as whinging to you, but I wanted to see what USA juniors would pop up in the 2009 Worlds in London. That was ALL. I tried to explain it in the deleted post, but unfortunately I did use a few invectives there. There was absolutely no need for you to jump the gun like that and I lost my cool as well. Again, did I not point out that believed the Chinese were cheating as well? I think the whole thing degenerated from miscomprehension and I’m very sorry for the part I played in it.

  16. TCO Says:

    It’s Groundhog Day. exact same point has been discussed a billion times.

  17. ella Says:

    I know Nastia was in great form in 2004 and everyone says she would have contributed to the team…but that’s in hindsight.

    She didn’t have the international experience that she did in these games…she had competed in junior elite international events but I think having 3 world championships under your belt (plus 9 medals) really added to her ability to perform and peak for these games…a healthy Nastia is a force to be reckoned with!

  18. Hannah Says:

    The US have some lovely juniors, that is true – but no team capable of beating the Chinese seniors (regardless of their supposed ages)! Somebody’s definitely been telling you some bullshit “M.”

  19. Gymnastics Coaching » Blog Archive » interview with Chinese gymnast Yang Yilin Says:

    […] Yang Yilin speaks […]

  20. LilJ Says:

    I know it seems weird that Yang hadn’t gone home since she joined the team, but did anybody notice that when Shawn was doing her interview (after Floor I think) she still hadn’t talked to her parents? It was hours later and they were at the games! Does anybody think that’s sort of strange?

  21. BM Says:

    I can’t believe there are still people out here crying about children being taken away from their family to do gym in China. You know it is the path their parents selected for them, and they can quit and go back to their ordinary life any second they want right? No one’s putting a gun on their head to force them…. how ignorant….

    I don’t know which interview exactly you are talking about, and I think you are pulling things out of context. As far as I know Yilin is a shy yet well-mannered and well-spoken girl. She reacted exceptional well in the Chinese and Hongkongnese interviews after the olympics and fans in China have started to speculate that she could be the next captain of the Chinese team given how mature she has become.

    BTW. they do get holidays every sunday and would normally go out shopping and things like that…

  22. BM Says:

    I’m not rooting for the Chinese government but they are no way near as bad and the gym girls are no way near as poor… remember great people do need to work hard. mind yourself and enjoy being on the dole for your whole life

  23. Ice Says:

    Happy birth day for Yang Yilin on 26 august.
    I hope Yilin has a succeed everything.
    From : icezyzaa@hotmail.com

  24. Milani Says:


  25. Papi C Says:

    I like gymnastics, and honestly when it comes to gymnastics I can be considered to be not so “patriotic” because I don’t automatically cheer for the USA girls. I feel like performance should speak louder than where you are from. I feel that the Chinese have an excellent gymnastic team, how they train them is their business as long as its not illegal. I feel that Americans are quick to “look down upon” and “criticize” the Chinese gymnastic program due to poor sportsmanship. The Chinese killed us in gymnastics and instead of giving them their proper credit Americans are quick to try to find something wrong with their system to down play the fact that they spanked us. As, far as Yang Yilin is concerned, leave that poor girl alone. Just because she is shy, doesnt mean something is wrong with her. And I think that its funny that because Nastia Liukin got Silver all of sudden the judges are “incompetent” and He Kexin didnt really “earn” gold. I feel that is a bunch of bull and a poor display of sportmanship. And as a last added note just because Yang hasnt been home since she joined the team doesnt mean she is being held captive by trainers. I bet she has a better relationship with her parents than she would have if her dad was her trainer..

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