The best rhythmic gymnasts must strike a balance between displaying precise coordination and fluid expression during their performances. It isn’t easy – but Sun Yi Ali certainly makes it look like it is.
The 14-year-old Island School student blitzed the Inter-school Rhythmic Gymnastics Competition last month and claimed gold medals in three of her four events – hoop, ribbon and ball – as well as a bronze in the clubs category. She was deservedly crowned all-around Junior Champion, and is the only junior team girl to be chosen to represent Hong Kong at the Asian Junior Championships in Kazakhstan later this month.
Sun Yi’s fascination with rhythmic gymnastics began in 2008, when she watched the rhythmic gymnastics events during the Beijing Olympics. “I saw them moving so gracefully in their beautiful leotards – there were moves both strong and elegant, done to lots of different kinds of music. I was besotted,” she explained.
It was at this point that Sun Yi, then aged six, started taking gymnastics. “I went to weekend classes for two years, and then took classes organised by the Gymnastics Association of Hong Kong,” she said.
Her rise to stardom began when the national team noticed her potential. “I was picked for the Hong Kong Rhythmic Gymnastics team, and I also received an elite athlete scholarship from the Hong Kong Sports Institute.”
Sun Yi certainly puts in the hours needed to maintain her elite athlete status. She trains around 25 hours a week – and will be going that extra mile as she prepares for the upcoming Open Championship and Asian Junior Championship in Singapore and Kazakhstan, respectively.
“Rhythmic gymnasts have to be mentally tough and focused, and at the same time have to be physically strong and flexible,” said Sun Yi, who is about to begin a two week training and preparation camp in Taiwan. “Each movement of the body requires precise coordination and should reflect the mood and melody of the music,” she added. Not only that, rhythmic gymnasts also have to remember how to use their apparatus – be it ribbons, balls, clubs, hoops or ropes – at the same time as they need to maintain stamina and grace during their performances.
With intense training schedules competing with her busy school life for her attention, Sun Yi said she regrets not having enough time for the most important thing of all: family. “Rhythmic gymnasts, like a lot of the athletes in Hong Kong, only take public holidays off – so I don’t have the time to visit my grandmother, who lives in England,” explained Sun Yi, who still tries her best to keep in touch via video calls. She does, however, intend to visit England sometime soon, to see her grandmother and her dog, Mr Darcy.
As for her future in sports, Sun Yi has her eyes on the very top: “My ultimate goal is to compete at the world championships or the Olympics.” And with her recent inter-school medals sweep, and having the prestige of having already been called up for the national team, there’s no reason why she won’t be able to go all the way.
What song/movie title best describes you when you’re playing your sport?
The movie Invictus. It shows how sportsmanship inspires friendships and breaks barriers. It’s about bringing out the goodness in humanity.
You can have any superpower you choose for 24 hours. What do you choose and how do you use this power?
Teleportation. I could be with my grandma in the blink of an eye, and I could be walking Mr Darcy, enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air as I listen to my grandma’s stories.
If you could have an unlimited supply of anything, what would it be and why?
Energy. I’d be able to do so many more things, and not feel tired.
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company do you sign-on as spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
I’d love to be the spokesperson for the Gymnastics Association of Hong Kong. I could promote rhythmic gymnastics in the city. I would lobby for resources too, like a purpose-built training facility where rhythmic gymnasts could practise properly.