Sighs, screams and hearts aflutter for star gymnasts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 August, 2008, 12:00am

It has been almost a decade since I last was a diehard fan chasing stars but, at yesterday's demonstration by China's gold-medal-winning gymnasts, that old familiar feeling came back - my heart pounded so fast there were moments I could hardly catch my breath.

Like the hundreds of other devoted gymnastics supporters, I had been looking forward to a chance to see this show, an opportunity to see my favourite gymnasts live.

I arrived at the stadium before 9am but could already feel the excitement as I watched hundreds of spectators waving their flags.

My excitement increased when I managed to grab a seat in the front row.

Candy Lau, 19, also in the front row, said she had queued at the stadium since 4 o'clock on Friday afternoon but the effort had been worthwhile.

'I came to support Zou Kai ,' she said. 'Even though I waited overnight, it was worth it. This way I can see him better.'

Then they came - 14 gymnasts entered the stadium 45 minutes before the show.

Everyone was hyper, the screams and cheers deafening.

My heart pounded when the charismatic Li Xiaopeng , China's most decorated gymnast with 18 Olympic and world titles, and Chen Yibing waved towards us, smiling confidently.

A chorus of shouts filled the air: 'Li Xiaopeng', 'Chen Yibing', 'Yang Wei', 'Zou Kai', 'Cheng Fei'.

At least 70 per cent of yesterday's spectators were female, mostly young women.

All the ones around me were so out of control that they screamed non-stop as they tried to catch the attention of their idols.

'I love you,', 'You are the best,' and 'You are the most handsome,' they yelled.

It felt like a pop concert.

Maybe it was jealousy, but one male journalist nearby complained loudly that the screams were unbearable.

Even though I maintained my composure and managed not to emulate the other women with their constant stream of screams, I found my excitement difficult to control and noticed my hands sweating whenever Li, 27, and Chen, 23, came close.

After the welcoming ceremony, the gymnasts threw flowers to the audience. I was one of the lucky few who managed to grab some of the sweet-smelling missiles.

The crowd kept up its roars throughout the 90-minute show, in which the China medallists were joined by Hong Kong gymnasts.

Laughter and cheers erupted when Yang, 28, Chen and Li performed special routines, and little tricks - light-hearted antics that were generally not in evidence during serious Olympic competition.

One special performance involved Yang and Xiao Qin, 23, performing on the pommel horse at the same time. Li and Huang Xu, 29, repeated the double act on the parallel bars.

Without the pressure of world-level competition, the relaxed and smiling gymnasts obviously enjoyed their performances, and had as much fun as the rest of us.

They were the stars, they had won Olympic gold medals, but they were not afraid to let their hair down and enjoy their moment in the spotlight.

There was a comic moment as Chen pretended to be hurt and asked Yang to massage him.

But the best, most thrilling moment - at least for most in the audience - was when Chen lowered his one-piece suit to his waist and performed bare-chested on the rings.

The screams and roars reached fever pitch.

As for me, I again had difficulty breathing. This was not only my favourite moment of yesterday's performance, but perhaps my all-time Olympic moment.

China's Olympic medallists, Hong Kong salutes you.