Monday, November 23, 2009

Cheng Fei

The sport of gymnastics has gained quite a bit of popularity over the past few decades. With the most recent women's athletes, such as the talented Cheng Fei from China, events draw large crowds and quite a bit of media attention. It is no longer considered unpatriotic to choose a favorite up and coming young athlete from another country. Many people around the world, both Chinese and foreigners, have taken a liking to this talented gymnast with the strong personality.

Cheng Fei began training at age 4, with a coach who had gone to school with her father. Though growing up poor is not unique to this athlete, it is what many professionals claim has helped to make her a tough competitor, who simply does not give up, but tries harder. She was born in 1988 in Huangshi. Her parents did not earn enough income from their regular jobs to support her training, so they knitted gloves in their spare time, to earn enough for their daughter to begin competing. She became a member of the Chinese National team at age 13. While this is much later than some female gymnast begin serious competition, it has helped her to have the maturity to stay focused. Cheng has also won many National titles in China. She is perhaps currently the most celebrated gymnast in China to date.

Cheng Fei has competed in two Olympic Games. The first in Athens, Greece in 2004, the most recent in Bejing in 2008. While she expresses disappointment in her 2004 Olympic performance, she was determined to do better in 2008. In fact, she took third in the vault and helped her team win the Gold in Bejing. She has held the World title eight times, winning the vault with each competition. Aside from her perfect form that many remark on, Cheng is known for choosing the toughest moves, whether on the vault or floor. She does not back down from a challenge and has even created a couple new moves named after her. The Cheng and the Amonar are two vaults that Cheng has created and named.

Though she grew up poor, Cheng's life has not had as many emotional struggles as some other female gymnasts. Yet, she has had a few challenges and difficulties to overcome. In 2007, prior to the 2008 Olympics, Cheng faced issues with her weight and physical abilities. She was unable to perform one of her own moves for some time, then went back to working harder, losing weight and getting her form back. Many people believe Cheng has always been a bit on the heavy side, but video footage and photographs do not necessarily indicate this is true. She may be more muscular and developed than some of her competitors, but her age also makes up some of the difference.

At the 2008 Olympics, Cheng was 19 years old. While this is much older than many competitors, she is not the only one to compete at an older age. Dominique Dawes of the United States competed in her last Olympics at age 24. It is rumored that Cheng will train for the 2012 games in London, though this has not been confirmed. Others believe that she may be retired.

There are many well known Chinese gymnasts. However, none seem to have gained more attention than Cheng Fei. Part of this is due to world wide access of videos and competition footage available on the internet. Many before her time did not gain as much exposure, as this form of media was not used to show a competitor's abilities. Often it was the news media that decided whether an athlete was worthy of publicity or the spotlight and an athlete may not catch the eye of one reporter as much as the next. A recent film to hit Chinese theaters, The Children of Huangshi, is about a British soldier who saves a group of orphans during the Japanese occupation. The release of this film is likely to generate even more interest in people from the town, as it hits theaters in other countries.

Cheng has her own philosophy that is probably not unique to her. She believes in working hard, being a person of good character and never losing sight of one's goals. Her disappointing performance in Athens though, caused Cheng to be somewhat overly critical of herself in the views of many. Perhaps this is the motivation she used to make a comeback and perform somewhat better in Bejing. By then, she was also the leader of the Chinese team, as the eldest member and a mentor to the younger competitors. 

Cheng is known for her strong work ethic, which she undoubtedly gets from her dedicated parents who did everything they could to give her a chance at success. Cheng worked hard as a young girl. She claims that she never stopped practicing unless her coach told her to. She tells the story that she was so dedicated that she was accidentally locked in the gym overnight. When she first began training, she asked her parents if she could quit, due to the fatigue and demands on her body. They encouraged her to keep training and eventually her hard work paid off.

Watching Cheng Fei compete is captivating. You can see occasional warm smiles, but mostly a look of sheer concentration. When she vaults, the amount of height she achieves in unbelievable. Her work on the beam and the floor shows quite a bit of artistic movement. If she were not a gymnast one might believe she is part of a ballet troupe. She incorporates many dance moves into her floor exercise with plenty of graceful arm movement. Whether spectators will see Cheng Fei at the 2012 Olympics in London remains to be seen. Right now, she is willing to let newer members of her team develop and train to attain a position in the Olympics. But, she also says that if her team needs her she will give it everything she's got in any future competition. For now, she still trains and plans to compete.