Amid all the joy of the US women's gymnastics team winning team gold last night, for us there was truly one standout: Isn't that coach Jenny Zhang (sometimes she's called Jenny Liang) just the greatest? She's the seemingly warm, maternal one who is always giving the girls big, enthusiastic, noodly hugs after their successful events and offers firm consolation when they screw something up. She just seems the like best.
It's hard to find much information on her, but this article says that she was on the Chinese National Team and that during that time she met her future husband Howie Liang. She and Liang now own Gym-Max Academy of Gymnastics in Costa Mesa, CA, where Olympic team member Kyla Ross trains. So Zhang has a special bond with Ross, but she really seemed to treat all the girls like her own. According to that article, Zhang is "sometimes stricter" than her husband, but we certainly haven't seen that during any of the women's gymnastics events so far.
One tends to think of gymnastics coaches as being stern meanies who use tough love to get strong results, a sort of Bela Karolyi model. Karolyi is congratulatory if things go well at the end, but there's always a gruffness about him during the rest of the competition. Not so for Jenny Zhang, who, again judging solely from what we saw in the past couple of days, treats the girls like fallible humans and doesn't seem particularly ruffled when things don't go perfectly. She's just so affectionate! She's like a mama bird wrapping all these little fledglings under her wing. We often feel bad for the gymnasts, especially the women, as their sport seems so brutal and punishing and they're always so young. So it's nice to see Jenny Zhang out there, being a constant spot of warmth in a pretty scary and chilly world.
Anyway, that's just what we were feeling last night watching the women barrel on for gold. Jenny Zhang, you are a delight.