1973 China MAG WAG

1973: Yu Liefeng, Xu Guoning, and Cheng Chunxia Win Chinese Nationals

In May of 1973, many of China’s top gymnasts traveled to the United States for a tour and a competition at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Meanwhile, back in China, the country held its national championships. On the men’s side, Yu Liefeng won the all-around, and Xu Guoning and Cheng Chunxia tied for first place on the women’s side.

Below, you can find an article on the competition.


Yu Liefeng (right) took a photo with coach Song Ziyu after winning third place on pommel horse at the 1962 World Championships

1973 China USA

1973: China Travels to the U.S. for a Tour

In May of 1973, the Chinese gymnastics team traveled to New York City, where they competed against U.S. gymnasts at Madison Square Garden. 

This was a big deal. I repeat: A big deal. 

From a gymnastics perspective, the visit was part of China’s re-emergence in the international gymnastics scene. In 1964, China withdrew from the FIG due to the organization’s two China policy, and during the Great Cultural Revolution, Chinese gymnasts all but disappeared from international competitions. Then, in the early 1970s, Chinese gymnasts began to compete in smaller competitions. For example, they traveled to Romania in 1972.

But there was something different about this trip in 1973. Whereas Romania was a communist country, the United States was the symbol of capitalism. So, from a political perspective, the visit signaled the further thawing of U.S-Chinese relations and was further evidence of a pronounced shift in China’s foreign policy. (Previously, U.S. ping pong players had traveled to Beijing in April of 1971, and President Richard Nixon had visited China in February of 1972. More on that in the appendix.)

What follows are the results, as well as newspaper accounts from China and the U.S.

Note: If you’ve watched Gymnastics’ Greatest Stars, this is the competition where the Chinese pianist improvised after Nancy Thies’s tape broke.

1972 China MAG WAG

1972: Yang Mingming and Jiang Shaoyi Win Chinese Nationals

The 1972 Chinese Nationals were the first major domestic competition after the Cultural Revolution. Launched in 1966 by Mao Zedong, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution — in very broad terms — set out to preserve Chinese communism by purging remnants of capitalism.

From a sports perspective, the revolution majorly impacted China’s national and international involvement. For starters, most of the national teams were disbanded. Gymnastics was an exception:

Apart from table tennis, gymnastics, and athletics teams, most national teams were disbanded.

Fong and Zhouxiang, “Sport in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)”

What follows is a translation of an article about the national championships in 1972. Unfortunately, the scores were not listed, but we can see which gymnasts would form the core of Chinese gymnastics as they started to compete in more international competitions in the early 1970s.

Reminder: The Chinese gymnastics team traveled to Yugoslavia and Romania before it held its first official national championships in 1972. 

Among the juniors, you might notice a familiar name: Li Yuejiu, who tied for gold on floor exercise at the 1981 World Championships and who currently coaches in the United States.

Jiang Shaoyi, China
Jiang Shaoyi
1972 China MAG Romania WAG

1972: China Travels to Romania for a Dual Meet

In June of 1971, Nicolae Ceauşescu, the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, paid a visit to China and North Korea. 

One year later, Chinese gymnasts went to Romania for a competition.

Note: We’ll see a similar timeline between the U.S. and China with Nixon going to China in 1972 and Chinese gymnasts traveling to the United States in 1973.

While the Chinese men’s team defeated the Romanian team, the Chinese women were not as successful. After the competition, the teams held joint training sessions, during which the Chinese gymnasts learned the compulsory routines. Apparently, Cai Huanzong’s routines looked even better than the figures used to depict the compulsory routines.

Note: After Ceauşescu’s visit to China, he published the “July Theses,” which ended a period of ideological diversity and cultural liberalization in Romania. A list of banned books, for example, was reinstated. Academics debate the extent to which Chinese political thought influenced Ceauşescu.

Note #2: China withdrew from the FIG in 1964, so this meet was important because it showed that China was dipping its toes back into the waters of international competition after a long absence.

Source: Sportul, July 19, 1972
1965 China

1965: Gymnastics at China’s Second National Games

In 1964, the People’s Republic of China did not compete at the Olympic Games, and the Chinese Gymnastics Association withdrew from the FIG. One year later, the country held its Second National Games, and the results make you wonder, “How would the Chinese gymnasts have fared at the Tokyo Games (1964) and the Dortmund World Championships (1966)?”

Let’s dive in.

Liao Runtian
Source: Wikipedia
1964 China FIG Congress

1964: China’s Withdrawal from the FIG

In my post about the 1964 Olympic Games, I mentioned China’s withdrawal from the FIG. Over the holidays, I was able to find the official statement from the Gymnastics Association of the People’s Republic of China.

Below, you can find a translation, as well as the original in Chinese.