Publication date : 13/03/2019
Sun Wei does not fear anyone ahead of the All-around World Cup event in Stuttgart this weekend – except the reigning series champion.
“My main rival is myself,” said the Chinese star as he prepared to begin his defence of the men’s crown he won in 2018. "Winning the World Cup Series last year enhanced my confidence, but I can improve."
With the 23-year-old from Jiangsu aiming to hit even greater heights this season, he will certainly take some beating. But Sun is by no means the only stellar name competing at the Porsche Arena for the second All-around World Cup event of the year.
USA phenomenon Simone Biles headlines a star-studded line-up in the Women's events, where she is joined by the likes of Germany's Elisabeth Seitz and Russia's Aliia Mustafina.
And while Sun fights with himself in the men's competition, there are plenty of other top-class gymnasts aiming to usurp him, not least Russia's 2018 All-around World champion Artur Dalaloyan.
Sun won gold as part of the Chinese Team at the Doha 2018 World Championships – a feat he describes as the best moment of his Artistic Gymnastics career so far – but Dalaloyan, meanwhile, was racking up a string of individual medals.
In addition to his All-around gold, the Russian also topped the podium in Floor Exercise and won silver on Vault and Bronze on Parallel Bars, as well as Team silver.
The 22-year-old was a late replacement for compatriot and six-time European gold medallist David Belyavskiy in Stuttgart, and he is set to provide an even sterner test to Sun.
But the Chinese athlete's strategy is simple. Rather than basking in the glory of his success last season, he has concentrated on getting even better.
“My main focus has been to increase the DV (Difficulty Value) of my exercises because that is my main weakness,” Sun said.
“I am also trying to train on my various exercises earlier than usual. No pain, no gain. Opportunity is only given to those people who are well-prepared.”
There is little doubt Sun will be fully prepared for action in Stuttgart, where he returns for the third year running and has happy memories of winning All-around bronze in 2017. He will be also using the event to fine-tune his skills for the bigger battles that lie ahead.
"I am planning to learn from my fellow competitors in Stuttgart and I want to make myself better prepared, both physically and mentally, for future competitions," he said.
Sun and Dalaloyan will also face stiff competition from the experienced German Marcel Nguyen, an Olympic silver medallist in the All-around at London 2012 who can bank on strong home support at the Porsche Arena.
Others in the men's field include Great Britain's three-time Commonwealth medallist Frank Baines and Dutchman Bart Deurloo, who won bronze in Horizontal Bar at the 2017 World Championships.
Switzerland's one-time European bronze medallist Eddy Yusof, Ukraine's European Games medallist Petro Pakhniuk, Akash Modi of the USA and Japanese teenager Teppei Miwa complete the line-up.
Sun, who names Horizontal Bar as his favourite apparatus, will not take any opponent lightly as he continues an ongoing quest for perfection.
"In Stuttgart I aim to smoothly finish all six apparatus and to practise my new elements in the exercises. But longer term, I am also focusing on how to stretch my career, adjust my mentality, increase my difficulty and maintain stable training," he said.
Sun names his compatriot Zou Kai, China’s second-most decorated Olympian with five gold medals and one bronze across Beijing 2008 and London 2012, as the athlete he most admires. And it’s no surprise that Sun has Olympic glory in his sights next.
"For the rest of this year I will be focusing on the national championships in May and the World Championships in October. But my dream in sport is to fight to make the grade for China's Olympic team and to stand on the top of the podium at Tokyo 2020," he said.
In the meantime, Sun hopes a good performance in Stuttgart will bring him a step closer to his number one dream in life outside sport: “To own a sports car.”
He certainly has the ability to add to his track record.
The Stuttgart World Cup is the second of four events in the 2019 FIG Artistic Gymnastics All-around World Cup series, and follows the American Cup on 2 March. The series will continue on 23 March in Birmingham (GBR) and conclude in Tokyo (JPN) on 7 April.