Publication date : 18/10/2018
Injured ankles permitting, six-time All-around world champion Kohei Uchimura versus 2017 winner Xiao Ruoteng is set to be one of the clashes of the 2018 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Xiao for one cannot wait.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what improvements we two have achieved during the last year,” Xiao Ruoteng says. “It will be a big challenge for me. There’s no doubt that Kohei Uchimura is one of the top gymnasts. He’s the shining one in the field of Gymnastics nowadays and I have learned a lot from him.”
While clearly respecting the man who won every major All-around Gymnastics title from 2009 to 2016, China’s Xiao is clearly not in awe of the double Olympic champion.
“He’s more like a rival than a hero to me,” Xiao confirms.
The 22-year-old’s World Championship win in Montreal last year did come after Uchimura had torn the ligament in his left ankle during qualifying, but despite this Xiao has taken great confidence from becoming the first Chinese competitor to win a major All-around title since Yang Wei.
“I proved my own value as a gymnast,” he asserts. “And I know that my performance is accepted and appreciated by many people. Though I’m still far away from being a model in the field, I’m now ready to face and solve difficulties all the time.”
It clearly helps that Xiao showed the world, and himself, that he could perform under the severest pressure. The Beijing resident came from nearly six-tenths behind in the final rotation in Montreal to grab that elusive gold.
Xiao has, however, endured a mixed 2018 so far. In March he took silver on Parallel Bars at the FIG World Cup in Doha but could only finish sixth on Horizontal Bar and failed to qualify for the Pommel Horse final.
It was a similar story of ‘almost but not quite’ at August’s Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.
“I’m glad that we won the team gold medal,” Xiao says. “But I’m not very satisfied with my performance.”
He had to settle for silver on Parallel Bars and bronze in both the All-around and on Horizontal Bar. The Games did, however, further signal the Chinese squad’s welcome return to form.
After the failure of any Chinese gymnast to win an individual medal at the Rio 2016 – the first time this had happened at an Olympic Games since 1984 – China comfortably topped the medals’ table in Jakarta, thanks largely to a tally of five individual golds. This came on the back of China also winning more medals than any other nation at the 2017 World Championships.
“I do believe we are improving,” adds Xiao, who missed the Rio 2016 Games due to a debilitating year-long injury. “I’m pretty confident in Chinese Gymnastics. But we still have many obstacles to overcome.”
The mad-keen football fan rates the Pommel Horse as his favourite apparatus – because “it requires less strength and more skills than other apparatus and besides, it’s safer” – and will be hoping he shines on it once again in just a few weeks’ time. First up, he will need to get in the zone.
“I feel like I’m so cool when I am performing my best, I am a total narcissist,” Xiao says. “It makes me feel very good when I encounter some unknown difficulties and try to overcome them. Such feeling is the best part about being a gymnast.”
If he was not a gymnast, Xiao would spend all of his time on a football pitch.
“I love it and would love to devote myself to it,” he says. “The sport includes many capacities like personal skills, team work and cooperation. To me, it’s very attractive.”
Before all of that Xiao, who has been training three full days and three half days a week, has a duel to win - and another world championship title to pocket.