London calling for injured Cheng
Cheng Fei, once the undisputed queen of gymnastics in China, is determined to overcome long-term injuries and compete at her third Olympic Games in London this summer.
At the 2008 Games in Beijing, Cheng captained China to their first women's team Olympic gold medal. Since then, however, she has been plagued by leg and ankle injuries.
This month she made her first major international appearance in three years, which was at the World Cup series in Zibo, Shandong province. Cheng (pictured), the three-time vault world champion (2005-07), did not let the home fans down, capturing the vault title with unexpected ease.
'The victory was surprising considering the injuries I'm carrying,' Cheng, who resumed training this week at the National Training Centre in Beijing, said. 'I haven't had regular, high-intensity training for ages, so I'm very happy that I won the vault event in Zibo. I was especially pleased I managed that in my first competition for quite some time.'
Before the Zibo event, Cheng last competed on the international stage at a World Cup series event in Madrid in late 2008, when she took home two gold medals (vault and floor exercise).
She could not have timed her return to competition better, with the United States and Russia both threatening to steal China's Olympic crown in London. At last year's world championships in Tokyo, the Chinese women finished third behind the US and Russia in the team competition and won just one gold medal, in the individual events, through Sui Lu on the balance beam.
But Cheng, who will turn 24 next month, is far too modest to accept the label of the team's 'saviour', saying no one was indispensable.
'One individual cannot save the team,' she insisted. 'In our team, every member has her specialty. If we all click at the same time, we will be hard to beat.
'What we need now is to support each other in the build-up to the London Games. We have to work hard in our daily training.'
Cheng, who created the 'Cheng jump' in the vault at the 2005 world championships in Melbourne, admitted she might not be able to perform the same manoeuvre because of her injuries.
'I really wish to do the jump again, but it will be very difficult,' she said. 'Because of my injuries, I have not been training as vigorously as before and indeed my training programme is different from that of other team members.
'I'm still troubled by my injuries, but luckily it's under control. As long as I don't aggravate the injuries, there should not be any major problem.'
With China due to announce the Olympic squad in June, Cheng is racing against time to prove her fitness to be part of the five-strong team who will compete in London.
'I'm very focused at the moment with the London Games my top priority,' she said. 'The competition to get into the China team is intense and I'm mindful that if I don't make it this year, then I'll have lost my last chance to take part in an Olympic Games.'
China, who have already qualified for both the men's and women's team events, will hold the national championships in Shanghai next month, when a clearer picture should emerge of who will make the squad for London.