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Feature: Long-anticipated dual team golds testify China's gymnastic breakthrough
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08:32, August 14, 2008

Scarlet roses bloomed in hand. Gold medals glittered on breast.

With deafening cheers and thundering ovation, Chinese women gymnasts mounted atop the Olympic medal podium for the first time as a whole on Wednesday, bathing in a sea of flashlights.

One day after their male counterparts were crowned in the Olympic team final, the National Indoor Stadium witnessed the unprecedented glory of Chinese women.

The long-anticipated dual team golds intensified the reason why this sport's legend Li Ning was chosen to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games.

They also enabled the Chinese contingent to become the fourth to win both men and women team events in a single Olympic Games, realizing a dream the hosts longed for decades.

Chinese women's score of 188.900 left runners-up the United States behind with a gap of 2.375 points, making it more like an easy win than a close one as expected.

The journey to the podium, however, was not smooth.

The ladies from both China and the United States all presented their best before being dealt a blow in balance beam, their third exercise of the final.

China's Cheng Fei and Alicia Sacramone from the United States fell from the apparatus, causing exclamation and sigh from spectators and mounting pressure on China's two-gold-medal dream.

The United States failed to maintain its consistency as all of its three competitors finished their routines with flaws. Sacramone rolled backward and landed on her bottom while Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson made errors in landing. The mistakes threw their hope for gold into ashes.

"Today I guess I let the pressure get to me. I got nerves on the beam and carried it to the floor too," Sacramone said later.

In sharp contrast, Chinese team went through the harsh psychological test. Cheng, Jiang Yuyuan and Deng Linlin all staged next-to-perfect performance in floor exercise and sealed China's triumph.

"Usually I am further down the start list for the beam, so I was a bit nervous. After falling off the beam, I told myself I need to do well for the rest of the routine and perform my best, so I quickly adjusted myself," said Cheng.

The gold ignited passion from home fans. They treasure more the significance of the historic breakthrough than the medal.

Gymnastic is a unique sport in China as it is the only one with male athletes having better records than their female counterparts.

From Li Ning, Li Xiaoshuang to Yang Wei, Chinese male gymnasts have given the world surprises. Li Xiaoshuang became the first Chinese capturing an all-around Olympic gold in 1996. Yang was the only one in 81 years who successfully defended an all-around title in world championships.

In women's events, China built up its reputation in the 1984 Olympic Games when Ma Yanhong became the first Chinese claiming a gymnastic title. Uneven bars and balance beam have become specialties of China since then.

As Chinese female gymnasts conquered the world with their elegance and consistency, the team title has been beyond the reach of China for decades. The Athens Games became a Waterloo for China which ranked seventh in the team final.

The rise of vault queen Cheng Fei raised the development of Chinese women gymnastics to a new high. Spearheaded by Cheng, the Chinese girls took their first team title in the 2006 World Championships. Their continuous efforts were paid back by the Olympic team gold.

Lu Shanzhen, head coach of Chinese women gymnastic team, said after the final, "We have adopted lots of measures to improve team members' psychological readiness and competing capability after the Athens Olympics. Chinese women gymnasts have been repeatedly sent to take part in international tournaments in recent years. Today's result has proved that our plan in the past four years is right."

The precious team gold has unveiled Chinese women gymnasts' potential and may spur them to kick off a medal overhaul in the following days.


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