July 25, 2008 / 5:05 AM / 11 years ago

Olympics-Gymnastics-Beijing offers Yang glory and redemption

BEIJING (Reuters) - The Beijing Olympics offer Yang Wei the chance of leading China’s men to team glory on home soil and finally putting the misery of Athens behind him.

The muscle-bound Chinese had the all-around gold medal within his grasp in 2004 after American Paul Hamm fell from the vault, but a fall of his own from the high bar meant Yang returned home without a medal of any kind.

Tumbles also relegated China — the world champions — to fifth in the team competition in Athens and that is something Yang is determined to put right in front of his compatriots at the National Indoor Stadium next month.

“We will transform the glory and pressure into motivation,” the 28-year-old said. “The support from the Chinese people fills us with power.

“I believe we will put in total effort in every event and get the result we want through our hard work.”

Over the last four years there has been extensive analysis of the team’s weak points which has reaped dividends for Yang who won five gold medals at the last two world championships.

China claimed the men’s team gold at both championships while Yang became the first man to defend the all-around title in Stuttgart in 2007, despite a dramatic fall from the high bar.

In 2006, he also claimed the parallel bars crown which was particularly significant for the man whose commitment to the communal effort last year saw him named one of 10 “most outstanding young persons of China.”

“The parallel gold medal in 2006 is the first world title I won in individual events,” Yang told Xinhua. “It gave me great confidence ...”

That he was able to claim the all-around title despite that fall in Stuttgart was testament to the level of difficulty of his routines, something that should give him an edge over Hamm in Beijing.

Hamm took a break after winning the Athens all around gold in controversial circumstances and Yang has not faced him in competition since.

FIRST TEAM GOLD

Yang was born in the central province of Hubei and, not unusually under the Chinese system, was attending a “sports school” part-time at the age of five.

Particularly good at floor exercises and the rings, his strength in all disciplines meant he graduated to the national team in 1996 at the age of 16.

Three years later, he was a world champion as part of China’s team in Tianjin and in Sydney the following year he became an Olympic champion, chipping in with the top score as China claimed its first team gold.

His girlfriend Yang Yun also brought home a prize from Australia, a bronze in the uneven bars.

Despite several high profile falls, Yang is regarded by his government as a safe pair of hands and earlier this year he was made a delegate to the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber stamp parliament.

Yang is determined not to disappoint his country at the Games in August. “As an athlete, to win a gold medal at the Olympics is the ultimate goal.”

(additional reporting by Liu Zhen; editing by Robert Woodward)

For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china

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