Anna Li, who was one of the three replacement athletes in England for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, will be in London supporting the U.S. squad despite suffering a neck injury earlier in the week that has put her in a cervical collar and taken her out of the replacement pool.
According to a USA Gymnastics spokesperson, Li made the decision to stay in London and watch the competition rather than returning home immediately for further medical care.
Li, who was training as a replacement athlete in Birmingham, England, had fallen earlier in the week as she finished training a routine on the uneven bars, her specialty.
“Things could have been a lot worse,” Li said Friday. “I’m lucky because I wanted to finish out this entire journey and I wanted to still be part of the team.”
Li’s baptism into gymnastics occurred at 17 days old, when her mother, Jiani Wu, a bronze medal winner for China in the 1984 Olympics, brought Anna to the Las Vegas gym where Jiani and her husband, Yuejiu Li, a silver medal winner for China in 1984, coached. The couple came to the U.S. around 1987.
She went to the gym every day with her parents, and her first memory of the place came at about age 4, when she saw older girls fitted for leotards and was dazzled. She asked her mother for one.
“You can’t get one unless you compete,” Jiani Wu told her daughter.
By the time Anna Li was 6, she was competing against girls years older in the Junior Olympic program. At 13, she decided to train as an Elite.
At 13, Li started training at the highest rung in gymnastics — an estimated 50-hour-per-week grind necessary to compete at USA Gymnastics’ Elite level. Colleges began to recruit her, which fit her goal of a scholarship, not the Olympics.
She ended up taking a full ride to UCLA and, although the school is a premier program, collegiate competition demands far fewer hours in the gym compared with Elite. After graduating in 2010 as a history major, Li performed on ABC’s”Make It or Break It,” which follows fictional teen Olympic hopefuls, in addition to the Honda commercials. But she no longer competed. She had lost her edge.
The notion of returning to the Elite level and perhaps making the Olympics nagged. She didn’t want second thoughts creeping into her life.
So, Li started training as an Elite again, nearly a decade after the first time, and returned to Aurora. Her parents resumed coaching her.
“I just felt like it wasn’t enough,” she said of her gymnastics career. “I felt like I didn’t do my best at Elite. So I felt like I might as well give it my all. I want to finish gymnastics without any regrets.”
Asiance chatted with Anna Li right before she left for London.
ASIANCE: Can you take us through the training process that you go through every single day? What kind of diet do you have to keep up with when preparing for the games? Has your practice increased at all due to the Olympics?
Anna: Since being a part of the Olympic team, we all train in Texas where the National training center is. We train twice a day, morning and afternoon. We have routines and it’s mainly just working on consistency and details.
ASIANCE: How hard is it to keep up with the training and diet? Did it take a long time for you to get back into the habit of training?
Anna: Keeping up with the training hasn’t been a problem for me. Yes, I’m about 9 years older than some of the girls I train with, but at this level you have to be able to be ready. Diet wise, it is just eating healthy and being fit.
ASIANCE: What is the hardest part of training? How do you keep yourself motivated to keep going?
Anna: The hardest part of training is the daily work put into it. It’s fun to be out on the competition floor, but in order to enjoy those moments, you have to give 100% in training every day. I keep myself motivated by reminding myself why I made a comeback and how I want to live my gymnastics career without any regrets!
See Anna on Beam at Trials
ASIANCE: What is your motivation in this Olympic games? Are there any goals you would like to set before, during and after the games?
Anna: I’ve been extremely prepared for the Olympics and I’m ready if they need me! I just want to enjoy every moment there!
ASIANCE: Who is your favorite Asian athlete?
Anna: I’ve always looked up to my parents. My dad, Yuejiu Li and mom, Jiani Wu, who coach me.
ASIANCE: When did you know you loved gymnastics?
Anna: I’ve always had the passion for it ever since I can remember.
ASIANCE: Who do you admire on your team?
Anna: All of the girls on the US team are amazing athletes. The toughness and discipline that all the girls have are just inspiring.
ASIANCE: How long will you keep doing gymnastics?
Anna: I have no idea! I’m just taking it day by day! I keep surprising myself with how far I’ve come already!
ASIANCE: Besides winning a medal is there anything else you want to do in London?
Anna: Enjoy every moment! Meet other athletes and soak up the whole Olympic atmosphere!
ASIANCE: What is your favorite gymnastic event?
ASIANCE: What did you study at UCLA? What is your career aspiration?
Anna: History major. I like giving back to the younger people, so teaching and coaching is almost along the same lines.
ASIANCE: If you weren’t a gymnast you would be…
Anna: After winning NCAAs at UCLA in 2010, I did stunt work and commercials, so I’d probably still be doing that.
See Anna as a stunt double in these two Honda commercials
ASIANCE: What do you really like to do on your free time?
Anna: I like lying out in the sun, listening to music, and being with friends and family.
ASIANCE: When you have a chance to watch television, what do you usually watch?
Anna: I watch Vampire Diaries, Friends, and romantic comedy movies.
ASIANCE: Is this your first time in London?
ASIANCE: Is there a time or incident where you fell or hurt yourself in gymnastics that still sticks out in your mind?
Anna: There are too many to list! But yes, injuries are just a part of our sport. It’s normal to have tears, breaks, sprains!
ASIANCE: What do you say to girls who want to be a gymnast?
Anna: Believe in yourself and follow your dreams.