Sun, 26 Sep 2021

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Xiao Ruoteng: doing sports was like climbing Mount Qomolangma, the higher, the harder.

TOKYO, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Chinese gymnast Xiao Ruoteng compared himself to a vinyl record.

"The vinyl record couldn't be played for too many times, otherwise it will be scratched," he said. "I only play the record on the most important occasions for the audiences."

The 25-year-old young man from China's capital Beijing has suffered from serious shoulder injuries which prevented him from practicing difficult movements, and he has spent lots of time in medical treatment.

Before the Tokyo Olympics, he received cortisone shots. "The most important occasion is coming. I will show the world the best of me."

Speaking with a laid-back Beijing accent, Xiao was a lively and active boy at his pre-school age. It was hard for him to sit still. "I feel that I was talented, and I liked doing rolling and tumbling at home without anybody teaching me," he recalled in a joking way.

For his parents, gymnastics training was a good way for physical exercise. "He was very thin," said Xiao's mom Zhao Xiuli. "We had a friend in the sports school of the Dongcheng district. We would like to have him do more exercise there so that he could eat more and grow taller."

However, the boy, only five then, took to gymnastics like a duck to water, looking forward to going to the gym all the time. To him, the apparatuses were like toys.

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In fact, gymnastics was not the only sport that he was interested in as a child. His parents also sent him to a swimming class. "The swimming coach liked me a lot," Xiao said. "Then our anxious gymnastics coach told my mom 'gymnastics is the best sport for him.'"

Talent has always been a label for the athlete. Almost all his coaches and teammates said he was born for gymnastics. For a movement that others need to try ten times to master, he only needs to practice twice.

He got bored sometimes, especially when he was in the Beijing team doing the basic training every day. "You have to do the same thing like 50 times a day," he said. "For so many times I felt that I couldn't move on."

Luckily he had a good coach, who was always patient and good-tempered, encouraging him to do it again, and again.

As he progressed, people would ask the teenage Xiao about his dream. He would always reply: "to become a world champion", although he had never seriously believed that he would mount an Olympic podium one day.

The first time he felt that the Olympic Games were close to him was in April 2016, when he was competing in trials so as to gain a place in the team to the Rio Olympics.

He injured his elbow in the floor exercise. With the sports gala just three months away, Xiao decided not to have surgery. "He needed pain-killer every day," said his mom Zhao, who wept secretly during those days.

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Unfortunately, three months later, his health was still not good enough for him to head for Rio de Janeiro. "That was the biggest setback I have ever had," he told local media in Beijing. "The blow came not when you knew you were unable to go in the first place, but when, because of injury, you were left behind at the last minute."

He even considered retiring from the sport. "It was difficult for me to wait a year [to recover], and sometimes I thought about giving up. But, for my love of gymnastics and for all the people who helped me, I had to show them the results of their support, so I persisted in competing," he said.

The gymnast spent about half a year stepping out of depression. His coach, teammates, friends and family helped him recover the joy which he felt at the very beginning of his career, the joy of relaxation.

In 2017, he staged a comeback to win the gold in individual all-around at the World Championships in Montreal.

But performing in the Olympic arena was still an unaccomplished wish.

While waiting for the flight at the Beijing Capital International Airport, he talked about his ambition in a post on his Sina Weibo account: "riding on a thin horse and holding a rusted sword like d'Artagnan who was going to conquer the entire Paris, that was the romantic dream for a man."

On Monday evening, the Chinese men's gymnastics team claimed the bronze medal in the team event with 261.894 points, 0.606 points behind the champion Russian Olympic Committee and 0.503 points behind the runner-up Team Japan.

"Our performances were not impeccable," said the remorseful Xiao afterward.

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At the men's gymnastics individual all-around final, he impressed audiences with outstanding performances in floor exercise, vault and rings, topping the competition after three rotations. He continued to lead the rankings after high-quality parallel bars. But the 19-year-old Japanese Daiki Hashimoto finished with an unparalleled 14.933 in the horizontal bar, Xiao eventually settled for a silver medal.

Many people questioned the fairness of grading, including some former gymnasts.

"It was such a pity," said Yang Wei, gold medalist in the individual all-around at the Beijing Olympics, on Weibo. "You are the best in our hearts."

"I understand, but it was a bit regretful," said Li Xiaopeng, who had won an individual gold medal in parallel bars at the Sydney Olympics.

After the competition, Xiao shook hands with Daiki Hashimoto to congratulate him.

"My feeling is complicated," he told Xinhua, admitting that he took four pills of painkillers before the competition. "I cherish this opportunity to come to Tokyo and I am satisfied with my own performance."

Xiao once said poetically that doing sports was like climbing Mount Qomolangma: the higher, the harder.

He is currently preparing for other individual events. May the world hear the most beautiful music from the vinyl record on the top of the mountain.

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