Friday, November 21, 2008

Cartwheels in ........

Hong Kong!

Gymnastics is a popular sport in Hong Kong, though their athletes have not had anywhere near the success their asian neighbors China and Japan have had on an international scale. Gymnastics is practiced in schools all over Hong Kong, as well as at clubs, both recreationally and as a competitive sport. One of the major gymnastics competitions that occurs in the country is the Hong Kong novice and Open gymnastics Championships where gymnasts of all calibres get to compete. This picture is of some younger gymnasts who competed in 2005.

The Hong Kong International school has one of the most successful gymnastics programs in Hong Kong. The gymnastics club was organized by the parents of the school and it's administrators twenty years ago. The clubs results were greatly improved when they employed Danny Yen as their head coach and he and his staff began to utilize Danny's U.S trained coaching techniques on the team. The Hong Kong international school competes every year in international school competitions and last year took first place in both the junior and senior subdivisions of the major meet.

The Hong Kong gymnastics federation clearly involves itself in improving the coaching and performances of gymnasts all through South East Asia, as last year a training course for gymnasts and coaches from Mongolia, Chinese Taipei, and Korea, collaborating with some experts from the International Gymnastics federation.  The training camp was an international success, spurring plans for more of the same types of conferences to occur all through Southeast Asian in the next few years.  The delegation was particularly surprised and pleased when Olga Korbut appeared, offering advice and encouragement to coaches and athletes alike.

Olga Korbut, who trains gymnasts at the Scottsdale gymnastics club in Phoenix, Arizona, was traveling in Hong Kong at the time as coach to some gymnasts she was taking on a promotional gymnastics tour around the country.  These gymnasts were to act as ambassadors for the sport in the U.S , encouraging it as an activity for young Hong Kong children. The youngest of these girls was eleven-year-old Becca Weltman (centre), who relished the opportunity to perform gymnastics to crowds of up to 3000 people in shopping malls and gymnastics clubs.  She performed thirteen shows in twelve days and loved working under Korbut.  Though many who attended the shows came particularly to see Olga Korbut in person, the gymnasts stole the show with their skills.  They also showed young children how to perform some moves before and after each demonstration.  Becca loved her trip to Hong Kong.  She was particularly taken with the double decker busses used as public transport, the Hong Kong Disneyland and eating octopus legs, which she claimed tasted like chicken!

One gymnastics talent from Hong Kong was unfortunately nipped in the bud.  Sadly, a young gymnast called Zhang Wei, a fourteen year-old who had a excellent chance at competing for Hong Kong at the 2010 Asian games suffered a fall from the uneven bars as she practiced a back somersault from the high bar, sustaining a serious spinal injury, dislocating her fifth and sixth vertebrae. After the accident, the rising star  of Hong Kong gymnastics was numb from the neck down.

The doctors who treated her, failing to successfully use traction to alleviate her injuries, performed surgery on her neck.  After the operation, Zhang was able to twitch various muscles in her lower body, signaling a very good chance at a complete, albeit slow recovery.  Zhang was confident herself, telling her parents repeatedly that she will walk again.  Sang Lan, the Chinese gymnast who became paralysed at the Goodwill games, set up a fund to raise money for Zhang Wei.  Her doctors believed that Zhang Wei could make a full recovery, with the aid of much physiotherapy and doses of steroids for her muscles, in five to six months.

There are also gymnasts from Hong Kong who compete in the Special Olympics, including Yu Lau, who in this picture, is performing on the vault in 2003 with lovely form and height. In 1999, at the age of sixteen Mei-yu Lau scored an astounding perfect ten on the balance beam, her favorite event. Mei-yu adored gymnastics, and her parents and coaches claim she practices every singly day, wether she has a class scheduled or not. She told reporters that before she discovered gymnastics, her life was dull, and she had no way of contributing to the world.  

Now, she is a celebrity at her special school. She has made many friends, competed to standing room only crowds at the Special Olympics and told the reporters, "Special Olympics has not only given me the opportunity to compete, but also the confidence to compete. I am very proud of my accomplishments, and where esle would i get to travel around the world?" When Mei-yu retires from the sport, she plans to coach. In 2003 177 gymnasts competed in artistic gymnastics at the special Olympics.

Hong Kong won't be lacking for great coaches if the article in the China Daily last year runouring former chinese champion, Li Xiaoshuang was applying for residency in Hong Kong.  The "Prince of gymnastics" revealed his intention to apply for residency under the "quality migrant admission scheme" that would encourage talented people to move to Hong Kong.  He also announced his willingness to help and guide Hong Kong gymnasts.
Li is perhaps best known for performance at the Barcelona Olympics, where, aged eighteen, as a relative unknown, he left the competition with three medals, including a gold for hid floor routine which included a triple-back somersault and being the man that beat Aelei Nemov in Atlanta.  An athlete of this calibre could be nothing but invaluable to the development and improvement of the Hong Kong gymnastics community.

Liu Xuan, of China, the first female gymnast to perform a one-arm giant swing on the uneven bars is also living in Hong Kong, working as a gymnastics reporter for a Hong Kong broadcaster.

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