10.0 Spotlight - Anna Li

March 4, 2009

Junior Anna Li is the featured gymnast in 10.0 Spotlight, which profiles a member of the UCLA gymnastics squad throughout the season. Li is a five-time All-American and the 2006 Pac-10 co-champion on the balance beam. She has amassed 30 individual victories in her career and posted career-bests of 9.975 on bars, 9.95 on beam, 9.925 on floor and 9.9 on vault. Last year, she scored a career-high 39.6 to win the all-around in front of a hometown crowd at the IGI Chicago-Style meet. Li was a two-time USA Championships competitor and was coached by her parents, Jiani Wu and Yuejiu Li, who won Olympic medals in Pauley Pavilion at the 1984 Olympic Games.

You had arthroscopic surgery in November to have bone spurs removed. You're competing on bars and beam now, but do you think you'll be able to compete on floor this year? Your floor routine this year is quite a departure from your past two routines.
I'm still not sure yet! I would absolutely love to compete floor this year, but since my foot surgery, it hasn't been feeling too well. It's definitely been frustrating, but I really want to compete floor because it IS very very different! Originally, I was going to use the music Hoppy (Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs) has, but I told Miss Val that I wanted fun, upbeat music, and it took a lot of convincing! She actually called me in one morning to work on my routine, and it was the day after I had started begging Chris to convince her, and Miss Val came in the gym and played the 'new' music that I wanted, and I didn't even realize that she changed my music!! She just walked over to me and said we're changing the whole beginning and then played the music and showed me the beginning! I was so excited and no longer bothered her about wanting to change my floor music! haha *Thanks Chris!

With your parents being Olympic medalists, you obviously have a great pedigree in the sport. Was it always a given that you were going to follow in their footsteps?
Actually, they didn't want me to do gymnastics, but I always LOVED this sport. I've always had so much passion for gymnastics, and it's been a huge part of my life! The first time I was ever in the gym, I was 17 days old. I always just played around in the gym until one day I saw the 'older girls' get sized for their competition leos, and I told my mom I wanted one. The only way I could get one was if I competed, and so that's when it all began! I wanted a shiny competition leo!!

What was it like training with the Chinese team before the Olympics, and what are the Chinese gyms like?
In the summers when I went back to visit my dad, I always made sure I kept in shape! However, when I trained in the Chinese National Training Center, I always tried to stay out of their way!! But it was great training with them and watching how amazing they were! My dad would call me over and say 'watch this', and he would tell a gymnast to do something crazy! It's also fun being friends with the girls and guys in the training center - but overall it's a great experience to train with them, and they are definitely amazing gymnasts!

The Chinese National Training Center is HUGE! It's very, very nice, compared to what it used to be like when my mom and dad both trained in China. I actually used to train at the old gym, and it was was smaller and definitely, equipment-wise, not as nice! The training atmosphere, I would say, is quite strict! But I believe my dad definitely lightened the mood when he was in the gym! The girls train a lot of hours, and usually they are grouped into about five girls per coach. Overall their training atmosphere is really nice!

During your freshman season, your parents were here for your first home meet in Pauley. Did they share with you was it like for them to watch you compete in the same venue they won Olympic medals in?
Well, for me, it's just amazing to actually think that I'm here competing in Pauley Pavilion, where they both medaled in the 1984 Olympics! There was an article in the LA Times when they came, and I had no idea about it until I saw it in the newspaper! When I talked to them about it, they never even imagined that they would have a daughter attend such a great university and also compete at the same place where they both won medals in the Olympics!

You've been experimenting with different versions of your bar routine this year and pretty much throwing every trick in the book. Have you decided on a final version, or do you play it by ear, depending on what the team needs at the time? In an ideal situation, what would you like your routine to consist of?
Haha, yes I have played around with many different bar routines! I believe right now we have come to a conclusion. However, I do still play it by ear! The ideal routine right now is Shaposhnikova to bail to stalder up to the high bar, a Tkatchev, and then either a double layout or a layout full out. Usually, the coaches tell me to base it on how I feel, which is usually what is most comfortable for me before I compete. And so far, this routine seems to work out pretty well!

You taught yourself the Tkatchev, correct?
Yes! It was after my dad had left for China, and I felt that the only skill I had never really tried or learned was a regular Tkatchev. So I was watching the guys do it on the high bar and started learning the tap and timing of it all. When I threw the first one, I think I shot back probably 20 feet!! But once I realized I didnt need to throw that hard, I got the hang of it. I learn skills well just by doing a few and feeling it.

Describe your most memorable gymnastics moment.
I've had many memorable gymnastics moments! One that comes to mind would be making it to Level 10 Nationals my first year competing Level 10. It was definitely a shock that I made it, considering how naturally weak I was. I couldn't even climb the rope with my legs then!! (Here's my beam routine from Nationals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SwhcbNdhjA )Also, making it to USA Championships two years in a row while struggling with training on my fractured foot during both years was definitely memorable! After the second year of competing and training on it fractured was when I had to get two screws put in. And lastly, when I committed to UCLA and stood at Janss Steps! And all the competitions with such great teammates and coaches and trainers .... it's all so exciting!

What are your interests outside of gymnastics?
Outside of the gym, I'm always looking for SOMETHING to do! I'm usually up for anything and always looking for something new. I love playing other sports for fun, but I haven't settled on something specific. I've played around with some martial arts recently, but besides always being active and playing other sports, I love my couch as well! Sometimes I like to just go for a drive around LA and see what's around me. Beverly Hills and all the famous people and their mansions are just 5 minutes away! I love driving because it gives me time to appreciate where I am and just think about my life!

You are known for your stellar level of difficulty and the artistic quality of your gymnastics. Have you ever considered going to Cirque du Soleil or any other kind of performance work after your gymnastics career is over?
I have definitely considered staying active, that's for sure! I know I would not be able to go from 22 years of gymnastics to sitting behind a desk all day! I can barely do that now in class (Miss Val is probably rolling her eyes at me now haha). But yes, I am looking forward to working with Miss Val in San Diego with SeaWorld when I'm done competing here at UCLA. After that, if I don't go into Cirque, I've actually been wanting to pursue being a stunt double, similar to a previous UCLA gymnast, Heidi Moneymaker! I've spoken to her, and that is also why I have been playing around with martial arts outside of gymnastics!

The Bruins are competing against Georgia this weekend. The last time Georgia came to Pauley Pavilion, you clinched the win for your team with a 9.9 on floor. Talk about that moment and talk about what your team needs to do to pull off the upset again.
My freshman year, I remember just walking into the meet and going straight to Miss Val and saying 'We're going to win this today!' She looked at me kind of oddly, but I just knew we were going to win it! Our team this year is so mentally and physically strong that I know we are definitely by far one of the strongest teams out there this year. We all know what we need to work on to prepare for this weekend, and we are all excited to compete against one of the best teams out there! It's going to be a great competition, and the Bruins are ready to dominate. :-)

Lightning Round
Favorite sports movie?
American Anthem! (only because my dad's in it - haha)

Can't-miss TV show?
NCIS, One Tree Hill, Friends

All-time favorite gymnast?
Catalina Ponor

Something you can't live without ...
My little sister Andi and my best friends. Oh - and my camera!

Favorite thing about LA?
Opportunities! EVERYTHING is right here!!

Favorite UCLA leotard?
The navy blue scalloped leo we wore for the first time my freshman year at Nationals!

What is your internet home page?
Apple start page since i just got a MacBook for Christmas.

Any pre-meet superstitions?
Just visualizations and listening to certain songs!

Describe yourself in one word
Passionate

Describe your team in one word
Champions

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