China’s Nina Li sits. Is it injury, or a more secret motive?{mosimage}Give the Chinese gold stars for theatrics. With a dominant women’s aerials squad hosting China’s only World Cup skiing event, coach Dusty Wilson sits the star player. He puts Nina Li on the bench.

It didn’t matter much. The Chinese still got three of the top four placings at the opening Changchun World Cup: Jiao Wang in first, Shanshan Zhao in second, and after Swiss skier Evelyne Leu, Shaung Cheng in fourth.

They added first and second in the finale with different women as Nannan Xu won ahead of Xin Zhang. But Nina Li, the defending world champ, the defending World Cup champ and winner of the last five World Cups, who hasn’t been worst than second in 13 straight meets, that Nina Li, “took a break.”

Technically, there was an injury involved, but Wilson alludes that Li is maybe more coy than sore. A dinged wrist hardly seems enough to hold back a Chinese aerialist. They may not lead the league in physical stature, but they are decidedly tough. To this group if it doesn’t require the hospital it’s not considered an injury. The wrist thing was just convenient. Just something the Canadian-born Wilson could point to and tell his star it was better if she took a break. She simply didn’t need the competition and the risk it brings. It was a smaller than normal field in China (it’s an expensive trip for teams relying on small budgets), so the field wasn’t one she could make any further statement to.

Plus it was a premium chance for some of the other Chinese women to shine. Five of them put a spit shine on their Olympic aspirations.

And there was another reason, too, for sitting Nina Li. She’s working on new material for Torino, ironing the problems out of some new jumps; bigger jumps with higher degree of difficulty ratings. And nobody outside of China has any idea how that process is going. Add an element of mystery to the equation.

Yan Xiaojuan, the head of the Chinese team, is quoted saying, “Freestyle is very risky. We don’t want to put Li at stake with the Winter Olympics around the corner.” Oh yeah, then he adds, and she’ll have new jumps at Torino.

For any team other than the Chinese, there was not much good coming out of the women’s event at Changchun. Eveline Leu of Switzerland got a third and Veronika Bauer the other. The best U.S. placing was Jana Lindsey in fifth in the first event, but they also lost Kelly Hilliman to a broken leg, which definitely took the luster off the trip.

“Everyone was thinking of Kelly and what she’s going through,” aerials coach Matt Christensen said. “We got everyone through without (further) injury and that was important.”

Fortunately the Chinese men’s team isn’t quite as strong as the women. The Canadians had a good weekend, getting the opening win from Warren Shouldice and a third and second from Kyle Nissen. With Bauer tossing in a women’s podium, the Maple Leaf gang was reasonably happy.

“I’m three for four with medals (podiums) this year,” said Nissen, after taking over the lead in the standings, “so I’m really estatic.”

The Americans got a fourth from Ryan St. Onge and a seventh from Jeret Peterson in the opener, but the guys had a problem recovering from the injury to Hilliman as well and did not qualify a jumper into finals for the second event.

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