The fact that legendary Chinese gymnast Li Ning was chosen to light the main cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Games may have been a sign that China's men's gymnastics team would do well this year.
Indeed it was. China's men's team reclaimed the gold it won at Sydney 2000 - and lost four years ago in Athens - in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
"When Li lit the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony last Friday, I felt very proud of him, since he is my former teammate," said Huang Yubin, head coach of the team. "It's a great honor for China's gymnasts and it encouraged us a lot."
The Chinese won their first-ever men's team Olympic gold in Sydney but lost it to Japan in Athens. They managed only one gold medal in 2004, which was considered a big failure for the traditional gymnastics powerhouse.
"We felt very sad and depressed when we failed to win a medal four years ago," said a teary-eyed Yang Wei, who is competing in his third Olympic Games. "This triumph is for the glory of the whole team and the tears come naturally. We feel all our efforts have been rewarded."
In the end, it was hardly even close. The Chinese had things all but wrapped up by the fourth round, as they held on to their comfortable 7.25-point lead to defeat defending champion Japan.
Yang was solid on every apparatus, while his five teammates helped out by winning each of their best events: Xiao Qin on pommel horse, Chen Yibing on rings, Li Xiaopeng on vault, Huang Xu on parallel bars and Zou Kai on horizontal bar.
"Their performances were excellent and they are competing at home so they had a great fighting spirit," said Japan's Koki Sakamoto.
"We tried out our best but we cannot catch up to them," Japan coach Koji Gushiken admitted.
Coach Huang, who had joked earlier that if his team didn't win then he would jump off a building, was relieved by the decisive victory.
"I should thank my fellow gymnasts for not allowing me to jump," he said with a smile after the final.
The coach also acknowledged the difficult journey the team had endured to win the gold.
"After the 2004 Olympics, Yang was thinking of retiring and both Huang and Li were in awful form," the coach recalled.
"When I came back to lead the team in 2006, I had to stay with them everyday to help them rebuild their confidence. Luckily, none of the team members gave up and we united together to get into our best form before the Beijing Games."
Journey to the top
China traveled a long road to get back to the top. A watershed moment for the team was at the 2006 World Championships, where it beat archrival Japan en route to claiming a record eight gold medals.
The team continued its road to improvement at the Doha Asian Games at the end of that year and went on to win five more gold medals at last year's World Championships in Stuttgart.
After three Olympic appearances and living through the peaks and valleys of Team China, Yang, Li and Huang Xu all held each other and wept, knowing this is likely each of their final Olympics.
"We have prepared for this gold for eight years," said three-time all-around world champion Yang. "After the Athens Games, we kept asking ourselves everyday, 'what have we done for the Olympics today?' and whether we made enough effort everyday."
"We have gone from the highest to the lowest and then back to the peak again, which makes me feel special today," Huang Xu said. "Eight years ago, I was still young and now I'm very confident."
Li, the 2000 Sydney Games parallel bars gold medalist, returned from injury only a few months before the Beijing Games. With this team gold medal - his 15th Olympic, Worlds or World Cup gold - he has now surpassed the legend himself, Li Ning, who has 14 gold medals in top-level world competitions.
But Li Xiaopeng remained modest about his achievement.
"I think Li Ning is a miracle of his time and I cannot exceed him," he said.
Source: China Daily