World-famous gymnast Lu Li earned rock-star status in her native country of China when she won a gold medal with a perfect performance at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Now the diminutive, fearless 33-year-old is ready to make her mark on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, here in Redmond.
Lu, who shocked the gymnastics world with a perfect 10 in the uneven bar competition during the 1992 Games, is the new beam coach for the Junior Olympics team at Redmond-based Emerald City Gymnastics Academy.
“It’s a great honor to have her part of our program,” said Sandy Flores, who co-owns the academy with her sister, Susan Townsend. “She not only brings a lot of excitement, but professionalism and success.”
So how did an Olympic gold-medalist find her way to Redmond?
Lu, who moved to California from China in 2000, was coaching at Champion Gymnastics in Stockton, Calif. when a “mutual friend” told Lu about the opening in Redmond. Lu said she her husband, Kim Gussenhoven, were already considering a move to the Northwest, so she jumped at this chance.
“I wanted to find a good place to raise a family and this came up, so I did it,” said Lu, who has a five-year-old son, John David Gussenhoven. “Everyone is really nice here. It feels like a family here. Right away, I felt that. I’m excited to be here.”
Lu’s first day was Monday and her arrival coincides with the recent opening of the Emerald City’s new 19,000-square foot West Facility, which is located right next to the academy’s East Facility at 17969 NE 65th Street.
A grand opening, open house for the new West Facility is set for Sept. 26.
Lu joins a coaching staff of 30 at the academy and is the first Olympic gymnast to coach in Washington state, according to Flores.
“I enjoy working with kids,” Lu said. “I want to share my experience with American kids and maybe someday I can help them make their dream come true.”
Lu’s dream came true Aug. 2 1992 — just a few weeks before her Sweet 16th Birthday — when she scored perfect 10s from all six judges in the uneven bars at the Barcelona Olympics. She also earned a silver medal in beam with a score of 9.912, tying Shannon Miller from the United States.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” Lu said of her Olympic accomplishments. “I did my best and I did what my coaches asked. It was reward for all my hard work.”
Lu was probably the only one not surprised by her gold-medal win because she entered the 1992 Games as an relative unknown. Lu competed in only one major international meet prior to the 1992 Olympics – the 1992 World Apparatus Finals. Her creative and difficult routine on the bars in Paris did raise some eyebrows, but she had to settle for a fourth-place finish because she hopped in her dismount. Lu entered the 1992 Games under the radar, but she put herself on the map with her dramatic Olympic performance.
It was obvious at an early age, gymnastics was the sport for Lu. She was athletic, energetic, flexible and disciplined, but most importantly, she showed no fear.
“I didn’t care if I fell, I just kept doing it,” she said.
Lu started gymnastics at age 5 and then at age 7, she left her parents to train year-round at a gymnastics sports school.
She admits leaving her parents was a hard decision, but competing at the highest level in gymnastics was her driving desire.
“I thought I made the wrong decision because I missed my parents,” Lu admits. “I cried every night. … I loved gymnastics, that’s all I wanted to do.”
By age 9, she was competing for the Chinese National team. And by nearly age 16, when most American kids are studying for their driver’s license, Lu had an Olympic gold medal. From age 5 to 17, gymnastics was her life — that’s all she knew.
She was the first person from the Hu’nan Province to win an Olympic gold medal and many people expected Lu’s 1992 performance to be the beginning of a brilliant Olympic career.
But she had other ideas, more lofty goals.
COLLEGE, THEN COACHING
Lu retired from gymnastics in 1994 at age 17 due to nagging injuries and other aspirations, namely her desire “to go to college,” she said.
“During gymnastics, I did not study that much,” she said. “I wanted to challenge myself.”
She graduated from the prestigious Peking University with a degree in international studies, becoming the first national gymnast to earn a college degree. While she was at college, she also took some English lessons, knowing that her ultimate goal was to move overseas to the United States and coach gymnastics.
In 2000, Lu packed her bags and headed East to California, where she landed a job as a coach at Gold Star Gymnastics in Mountain View, Calif., where she met her husband, Gussenhoven, who also coached at the facility. Still struggling to speak a new language, Lu took English classes in her spare time at Stanford University — and much like gymnastics, she was a quick study.
“It was hard at first, but I forced myself to learn 10 words everyday,” she said, “so I learned much faster.”
Lu speaks very good English these days and with her deep knowledge and experience in gymnastics, she is living out her dream of making an impact in the lives of young people.
“I always have a goal for myself,” she said. “I always wanted to come to the U.S. and help American kids and see their success.”
EMERALD CITY GYMNASTICS TO HOLD GRAND OPENING FOR WEST FACILITY
Emerald City Gymnastics Academy will hold a grand-opening, ribbon-cutting celebration for its new West Facility, at 17735 NE 65th Street, Suite 101, Saturday, Sept. 26 from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
The new West Facility, which opened Sept. 8, is located a building over from the Emerald City Gymnastics Academy’s East Facility at 17969 NE 65th Street.
Captain Keith from the Discovery Channel’s hit series, “Deadliest Catch,” along with Redmond Mayor John Marchione, will cut the ribbon, according to Sandy Flores, who co-owns the academy with her sister, Susan Townsend.
Participants will get a chance to check out the academy’s new 19,000 square-foot facility and there will be plenty of other fun activities, Flores said.
For more information, call (425) 861-8772.