(Major shoutout to @team-china for uploading the video to youtube!)
Before 2015, she has not made a name for herself and almost quit the sports of gymnastics, but after entering the national team last February, it was as if she has stepped onto a fast-moving train of success and made leaps and bounds.
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Mao Yi is a name not many has heard of before appearing on the international stage of World Championships, even the girl herself, upon entering such a “grand event”, was a little shell shocked.
“On the day of PT I was telling the older teammate (her exact words were "our older sister”, so I think she meant an older girl on Coach Wang’s group), ‘Sis, I’m was so nervous during PT, what do I do?’ And she said, 'there’s no need to be nervous, it’s only PT, it doesn’t matter. Even when it’s quals you’d still be nervous. It gets better when team finals come around, because as you compete, your heart settles bit by bit.’
“Compared to others, I’m quite a late starter, I gained my difficulties later on and quite suddenly, and so some people say I came out of cram school.”
“Last year, about after Lunar New Year,” coach Xu recalled, “when she was added to the national team, she wasn’t young anymore, compared to most others (when they were added to the national team). However, we just saw that she had potentials and areas in which she excelled: notably her twisting. Yet, most other areas of gymnastics she was extremely lacking, like some of her foundations; when she arrived, basically she doesn’t have a full routine for any of her four events.”
After arriving at the national team, Mao Yi worked extremely hard, in addition, she has a great personality, and thus, she became extremely popular among her peers and coaches. During the Lunar New Year celebration’s annual lottery draw, the team head coach Huang Yubin and team lead Ye Zhennan both said that no matter who actually drew the ticket for the large screen TV, it can only go home with Mao Yi.
“She performed very well during the World Championships, and during training, she showed great work ethics and drive, so if I were to draw the ticket for the TV, I would give it to our pretty girl Mao Yi, what do you say?” Huang Yubin announced to everyone’s cheers.
“Everyday, she has a smile on her face,” coach Wang says, “as opposed to some athletes who really feels the stress of training and it shows on their faces.”
Mao Yi works extra hard because her experiences before entering the national team was so full of cruel twists of fate. Before the national team, Mao Yi was sent through three different provincial teams. After the 2013 National Games, she did not know where life would take her, “because after National Games, the Liaoning team basically broke up. During that time, most of my time was spent wondering whether or not I should continue, so I called my mother, and my mom said, there’s a possibility that she might send me to Guangdong, and suddenly things seemed a bit brighter. But I ended up at Shanghai. To be honest, I didn’t think too much about it, because Guangdong and Shanghai are both strong teams, it didn’t matter which one I end up at.
“On the Shanghai team, in the beginning, training was honestly very hard and strenuous, plus it was summer, so Shanghai was pretty hot, I was just drenched in sweat everyday.”
Mao Yi’s ancestor town is Ruijin of the Jiangxi province. Her parents have been working in Shenyang, renting their home in an old residential apartment complex. Their unit is small, but it was in this tiny space that Mao Yi first showed the potential for gymnastics. “She sleeps up there,” her father said, pointing to the top bunk, “and from here, she could just prop herself up and jump on.”
In their tiny apartment, her parents sleeps in the smaller room, and the larger, was filled with sewing machines. They both work in the garment processing business, it is a tiny business with very low margins, because they work on low-end clothing destined for street stalls. In these past two years, business has not been great, and a lot of sewing machines were left collecting dust. From a young age, Mao Yi understands her parents’ hardships, and from a young age, she does her best to take some of the load off their shoulders.
“When she’s on the provincial team, we had to send her money for every day things like toiletries and change of clothes, every month, we’d send her a hundred dollars. It’s unlike on the national team, where they give her everything. Sometimes, she’d have to buy something like socks or slippers, when she goes over the budget, she’d say, 'mom, I went over budget this month, I can’t spend any more money.’ And I’d think… (is it our fault that) they matured too early?”
“Back then, when I was going to Yunnan,” Mao Yi reminisced, with tears in her eyes, “I knew that my family wasn’t doing so well financially, so when the other girls are spending money, I don’t want to ask my parents for money. Most importantly, I’ve been training for such a long time, but I haven’t achieved–unlike some of my teammates in Yunnan, who has bonuses and such…”
(note: Mao Yi has really pretty Chinese handwriting, she must be really hardworking at her academics too, because you don’t get to writing pretty Chinese characters from not studying/writing them a lot)
“Now that she’s on the national team, she’s earning a salary, and she’s given the bank card to me. She says, 'mom, I know things are hard at home, just take what you need from my account.’”
“Um… I want to say thank you to mom and dad,” Mao Yi says of her parents, “you’ve been so supportive of me throughout the years. I’ve been training gymnastics for so long (without any notable achievements), but you’ve never given me any pressure. To me, you really are good parents.”
When it comes to what she wants to improve upon, Mao Yi spoke with clarity and confidence, “my main events. For example, vault, I want to attempt the Amanar, it has higher difficulty value. For floor, I want to have incremental increase in difficulty as well, but most importantly, for both events, I want to improve my consistency.”
When olive flowers fill the branches, the time for harvest will have arrived. The diligent flower that is Mao Yi wishes to blossom in Rio, “I really love this gymnast from Russia, her name is Mustafina. When I watched her compete, I fell in love with that majestic aura, everything she does seems very calm and graceful. I feel like she’s just born to be queen. I feel like I have so much to learn from her.”