Li Xiaopeng

------A gymnast dreaming of surpassing Li Ning 07-27-2004 17:13

The Chinese national gymnastics team is a world class powerhouse. Scores of Chinese gymnasts have thrilled fans worldwide for the past 2 decades. And Li Xiaopeng is one of them.

He has the good looks of a movie star and a body to die for. Meet Li Xiaopeng, a young Chinese and an internationally acclaimed gymnast. He admits one day he might like a career on screen, or on the catwalk. But right now, what motivates him is hard work, and Olympic gold.

Li Xiaopeng was born in 1981 in Changsha city of central China's Hunan Province. Guided by his parents, Xiaopeng began to show a flair for gymnastics when he was only six. Soon, he was setting himself apart from his peers with his diligence and skill.

As a teenager, he won several province level championships. This brought him to the attention of the national squad and earmarked him for both hardship and glory.

He was chosen to the national men's gymnastics team in 1996. The world champion banner captured his imagination. He dreamed of one day joining them. His idol was Li Ning, the legend who won a record 14 world titles. Xiaopeng's determination soon translated into more arduous training.

His first taste of glory came in 1997. He was part of the Chinese team at the World Championships in Lausanne. The 16-year-old performed brilliantly, helping China clinch the team world title, and becoming China's youngest ever world champion.

In 1999, the World Championship was held in Tianjin, in north China. Li was under huge pressure to come up with another stellar performance. But a failure in the parallel bars put his quest on hold. Although he brushed aside the loss and went on to take the title in the men's vault he felt he had left both himself and his fans down. This only spurred him to try even harder at the 2000 Sydney Olympics one year later.

Li Xiaopeng said, "The top priority of the Chinese team is the Olympics, because it is the world's greatest sporting event. It's not just my teammates and coaches watching. Everyone in China is scrutinizing our performances. We pretend it doesn't matter. But we really feel the pressure. It gets worse as the games approach. It's really bad."

Li Xiaopeng and his teammates were outstanding, winning gold in the prestigious men's team event, a first for China's gymnasts. Li Xiaopeng also won an individual gold medal in the parallel bars.

Despite his accomplishments, Li did not rest on his laurels. In fact he decided to raise the bar, setting new standards in his events. But this meant even tougher training and a brutal schedule that at times left him wondering whether it was all worth it. The test would come at the 2003 World Championship. He was well aware of the price of failure.

He recalled, "It's been tough, both mentally and physically. But I think I'm ready."

His performance was nothing short of superb. All the hard work and anguish paid off with Li earning another world title.

Now, with Athens on the horizon, Li says he is confident of doing well. He even admits he has a new dream, to surpass his idol Li Ning. For this, he needs two gold medals in August, which would bring his total of world titles to fifteen.


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