Li marks China’s Olympic bow with gold

A great irony of the 1984 Olympic Games was that the boycott of the event by the Communist-led Soviet Union also marked the first full appearance at a Summer Games by China.

The country had appeared in token form at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and made its Winter Games bow at Lake Placid in 1980, but Los Angeles was the first time they had sent a meaningful team to the Summer Games; a mere 24 years before it topped the medal table in Beijing.

In a remarkable bow they finished fourth in the medals table and this was in no small part thanks to the efforts and focus of their so-called Prince of Gymnastics Li Ning.

The name Li Ning conjures an image of the retired gymnast apparently floating around the Bird’s Nest Stadium before lighting the Olympic cauldron at Beijing in 2008.

He also since started a sportswear company bearing his name that has made him one of the richest entrepreneurs in China, but it was his supreme gymnastic prowess over a series of world-class performances that first made his name.

He was a world-class competitor, boycott or no boycott, and he enjoyed a career which included 14 world championship titles.

However it was at the UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion that he made his biggest global impact.

Having missed out in the individual all-around gold finishing third behind Japan’s Koji Gushiken, Li went on to win more medals in Los Angeles than any other competitor.

He scored the only perfect 10 of the floor exercises to take gold in the individual event and helped China to a silver behind a pumped-up United States team in front of its own crowd.

He scored another 10 in the pommel horse but this time he was forced to share the top step of the podium when American Peter Vidmar emulated the feat.

And likewise in the rings he had to share the honours, this time with Gushiken.

He finished the games with three golds, two silvers and a bronze – more overall than Carl Lewis or Ecaterina Szabo – and immediately entered Chinese Olympic folklore.