he is 15? You must be kidding!" That phrase was uttered countless times during the McDonald's Classic USA vs. China, when spectators spotted Chi nese gymnast Chen Cuiting. The pixie-like Chen, who was labeled the ''Asian Comaneci" after she won the all-around title at the Asian Games, made her American debut during the McDonald's Classic. Chen placed fourth all-around while gaining a new group of fans. The tiny Chen looked more like a third-grade pupil than a high school student. Her thick mane of jet black hair and her large dark eyes and impish grin, combined with her gymnastics talent, earned her a new following. Chen's career began at age six when her mother took her to a gymnastics school. Her most admired gymnast are the great Li Ning and Nadia Comaneci. Through an interpreter, she said, "My coach has told me stories about Nadia. I don't know how she trained, but in order for her to have been
such a good gymnast, she must have had a good coach." Chen was looking forward to meeting Nadia's coach, Bela Karolyi , during the competition. The Honolulu trip was her first visit to the U.S. ''As soon as I stepped off the plane, I saw that the scenery is very beautiful here. After the competition, I want to see the famous places in Honolulu and I would like to see Disney World some day in the future." Chen shares a home with her parents, both workers in a machine factory, in the city of Changsha, the capital of Hunan provence. She has one brother, 14, who plays the violin. "I like all kinds of music," Chen said as she licked a vanilla ice cream cone. She also plays a little piano and plans to ''pick up some new songs." Ice cream is not her favorite food. She insists it's Mom's home cooking. Her favorite food is a chick\m and rice dish her mother prepares.
The little China doll, Chen Cuiting, poised and waiting, to burst into her floor routine. (USGF photo ÂŠ 1986 by M ike B otkin)
"I would like to do well in the Chinese National Championships and also in the World Championships. I want to try the Olympics," she said. Her favorite competition was the Asian Games. "I did not expect to do that well. " Chen said she trains three hours a day, six days a week. The "Asian Comaneci" label humors her. "I have not reached that level yet-my own level is far from Comaneci's," she giggled. "But, I try my best," she modestly added.
Is she aware that fans think she is incredibly cute? Chen rolls her eyes in embarrassment at the comment, then shyly laughs, saying nothing. ''My advice for young gymnasts beginning the sport would be listen to your coaches and train very hard," she quietly said. The talented Chen is evidence that she listens to her own advice.