Thursday, January 21, 2010


Hey there guys, sorry if i have been a little incommunicado since my japan floor work spazz-out, but some of you may remember what happens in January , when I cheat on my beloved gymnastics with my second favorite sport, tennis.
Yep, it's Australian Open time and this year, this couch gymnast has turned active tennis fan and has ground passes for the whole shebang.  And boy she is using them (when she really ought to be writing her Phd (but the thesis is on sport so I count it as 'research')) with reckless abandon!

Anyway, yesterday I caught the end of Zheng Jie, a popular and talented Chinese player, trying to close out a game against the very tall and tough spaniard Maria Jose Sanchez Martinez.  Martinez was the favorite, but Zheng was whipping some butt and was about to win when I mosied on over. It was so frustrating to watch her- she'd get to match point (the last play to win)  and choke, giving another chance to Martinez to overtake her.  This happened about five or six times before Zheng was able to finally finish the deed.  It was frustrating because she was clearly outplaying the higher ranked player, but was just getting nervous.  I mean, I don't know that much about Zheng, and perhaps this was a one-off thing, but it did get me to thinking.

Anyway. (I told you this would get to gymnastics!) as I always compare any sport i love to gymnastics, it got me thinking about the frustration I always felt for the Chinese girls teams.  I think many would admit that in so many way, the Chinese have been outclassing other nations in terms of depth, innovation, elegance and difficulty.  So why did it take them so dang long to win a team gold?!!

I have always wondered if it is a general mental weakness, an inability to close, a 'choke' if you will, when it actually comes down to the wire. But why?

The other thing I always considered was the culture shock factor.  China is a very different place from most of the places they would go compete (let me clarify, I am talking about the gymnasts here- not Zheng.  I think the WTA tour gives one many opportunities to get used to the world!).

But the young gymnasts might have a different experience travelling. It is not, for example, as different for an Aussie going to Germany or London.  China is still communist, the language is different, the system is different, the food is different.  Not tomention the fact that the girls all live together, and rarely see family or outsiders.  Trips for competitions must be very eye opening indeed and affects overall performance.
Maybe that is why it was so easy for them to perform in Beijing (except Fei, who I belive was succumbing to a different kind of 'leadership' pressure).

But if it is not that, what is it?

What do you guys think?



  1. There's no culture shock going on with Zheng Jie. Full stop. She's 26, been on the tour long enough for that to be redundant- travelling to a different countries multiple times inside the month.
    Totally different situation to gymnastics with 5/6 of the Beijing team aged 16 (or under), who had been very very sheltered and weren't so used to international competition.
    Zheng would probably have been considered the favourite for this match- her and Martinez are normally ranked similarly, and she is likely the more talented player. Zheng doesn't have the inconsistency issues of her similarly ranked country woman Li Na- right now if you had to pick one nation it's the Russian players (think Safina, Dementieva, Zvonareva... Sharapova being the exception) who have the huge mental problems- difficult to pick one single reason why. Martinez isn't actually that tall for a tennis player, standing about 4'' taller than Zheng at 5'9''.
    I can see your point though with the culture shock affecting many of the young Chinese gymnasts. Though as many of them struggle as badly in national competition it could also be attributed the strife for absolute perfection which is what makes their gymnastics so beautiful in the first place, but which caused their complete collapse in Athens when they could have contended for team gold.

  2. Oh, I wasn't saying Zheng had culture shock issues. I was just saying that her 'choke' moment reminded me of Chinese gymnasts, which then got me to musing. Yes, there are many 'mental midgets' as one hilarious blogger called it, on the Russian side, isn't there? In fact Sanchez-Martinez is the headcase in this case. She let herself be terrified by a 15 yr old at the Hopman!

  3. This is only my guess, and I have no idea if it holds true for everyone, but since I'm Chinese I decided to say it anyway.

    Chinese are always taught to be humble. You are not supposed to think that you are superior than anyone else. So often you do not realise how much potential you have and how much you have achieved. This becomes a problem when you are in a competition where you can compare youself with others. You find it weird that everything is going so well and that you are better than everyone else. Then you either freak out or you decide you have to give something away so that you don't stand out so much. So you are never able to perform as superbly as you could have.

    But this probably isn't a nation-specific problem. It is perhaps related to your personality.

  4. Funny how the mental midgets of the game are all close to 6'! With Safina I reckon it's the pressure of getting results b/c of her ranking and awesome elder brother, Dementieva still can't serve consistently, I think with Zvonareva it's that she just can't put it all together sometimes.
    And I feel I should say, in patriotism, that the 15 year old who beat MJMS (Laura Robson) is now 16, gives amazing pressers, and will be awesome when she gets more used to senior competition and controls her shots.
    I agree with anon no 1 that with the Chinese gymnasts it's the striving to be as perfect as possible that has given them the inconsistency problems- the amount of amazingly talented beam workers they have had who have never succeeded because they could not put more than one routine in a row together in competition is insane. And after watching a million videos from the national games it doesn't look like anything has changed.
    Look at Tan Sixin, Sui Lu, Deng Linlin, Cui Jie, Zhang Yelinzi, Zhang Yujiao, Xiao Sha, Li Shanshan (whilst not at her best she still had a fab routine), Guan Wenli, Yang Yilin, Wu Liufang, Huang Qiushaung...
    All these girls had the scoring potential to have medalled on beam in 09.