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Li marks China’s Olympic bow with gold

Li Ning - Gymnastics

04/08/1984

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.

Discover the best photos of Los Angeles 1984

  • Carl Lewis

    Running shoe worn by Carl Lewis at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles

    ©IOC / Nike collection

  • Carl Lewis

    Carl Lewis finishing first in the 200m

    ©IOC

  • Carl Lewis

    Carl Lewis carrying an American flag during his victory lap after winning the 100m

    ©Getty Tony Duffy

  • Opening Ceremony Los Angeles 1984

    General view of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the Opening Ceremony

    ©Getty Steve Powell

  • Opening Ceremony Los Angeles 1984

    Rafer Johnson gets ready to light the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles

    ©Getty Steve Powell

  • Opening Ceremony Los Angeles 1984

    The US decathlete and final bearer of the flame, Rafer Johnson, enters the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

    ©IOC Avelino Pi

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