Ning Li was born in 1963 in the city of Liuzhou in southern China. He won his first national gymnastics competitions at the age of 10. In 1982, he won his first World Cup events. Two years later, at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, his moment had arrived: Ning Li won six medals, three of them gold.
A team bronze
In 1984, the Chinese gymnastics team excelled, but in the team event it lost the Olympic title by 0.6 points to the USA. Ning’s first Olympic medal was a silver one, and this heralded the start of an impressive harvest.
In the all-around competition, Ning made a mistake on the parallel bars, which penalised him for the final ranking. With 118.575 points, the Chinese gymnast finished third behind America’s Peter Vidmar, silver medallist, and Japan’s Koji Gushiken, who won the gold.
He made up for this in the floor exercises, winning his first gold medal with the excellent score of 19.925 out of 20. He beat his compatriot Lou Yun, who managed 19.775.
Two gold medallists, twice
On the pommel horse, the competition was even tougher. Ning Li produced a remarkable performance which earned him the score of 19.950. The American Peter Vidmar also achieved an excellent performance. The two athletes had identical scores, and both stood on the top step of the podium. On the rings, Ning Li this time had to share the honours with Japan’s Koji Gushiken, as both men finished with the score of 19.850.
In the vault, for the first time in this event, four gymnasts tied for second place. With a score of 19.825, Li won silver, his sixth medal, making him the athlete with the most medals at the 1984 edition of the Games. This achievement earned him the nickname of “little prince of gymnastics”.
Success beyond the Games
Four years later, at the Games in Seoul, Ning Li could not repeat his achievements, lacking that extra element that had made him successful previously.
After his sports career, Ning Li founded his own sports equipment company. He married his compatriot Youg-Yan Chen, a gymnast like himself and a bronze medallist at the 1984 Games. The little prince has today made a success of his post-competition career.
On 8 August 2008, the organisers of the Beijing Olympic Games gave him the great honour of selecting him as the last Olympic torchbearer – the person with the enormous responsibility of lighting the Olympic cauldron. Everyone will always remember the image of Ning Li “flying” around the perimeter of the Bird’s Nest stadium.