24: Family Matters for Jiang

Jan. 27, 2011

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Friday, Aug. 13, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2010-11 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Being coached from an early age by former professional athletes usually equates to success in any sport. This holds true for University of Iowa senior gymnast Michael Jiang.

Jiang, the son of Hong and Michelle Jiang, finished seventh at the NCAA Championships last season in the pommel horse to earn All-America honors.

Both of Jiang’s parents were members of elite professional teams in China, and now run and operate the Chatfield Gymnastics club in Colorado. His grandfather, Jibai Feng, is also a former professional gymnast and has held a number of prestigious positions in the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) and the Chinese Gymnastics Federation.

Jiang was born to compete in gymnastics.

“My parents and grandfather gave me a good background,” said Jiang, who graduated from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. “They know their stuff, so the way they taught me was very structured. It also kept me close and tight with my family.”

Trained from an early age, Jiang could not have asked for a more qualified set of mentors to get him to this point of his successful collegiate career.

“My grandpa was in the Olympics a long time ago and he worked with the FIG Committee, so he knows a lot of that stuff,” Jiang said. “Back then they would have meetings and teach coaching strategies and how to build your athletes up and that’s what he did with me. It definitely helped my basics out a lot.”

First-year UI head coach JD Reive has an eye for talent, and Jiang has talent. The challenge for Reive is bringing out Jiang’s untapped potential.

“He’s got an amazing amount of talent,” Reive said. “He has a great background in basic gymnastics, but is not quite fulfilling his potential. Work ethic is the biggest thing with him. Because he’s so talented, things tend to come easy. The challenge is getting him to be more diligent about refining certain things. That’s what is going to take him from 10th place to third place.”

“My parents and grandfather gave me a good background. They know their stuff, so the way they taught me was very structured. It also kept me close and tight with my family.”
UI senior Michael Jiang

No country is more passionate about gymnastics than China, and with Jiang’s Chinese background, he faces the added pressure of trying to live up to his family’s success.

“It’s a family thing,” Jiang said. “There’s a little more expectation, but I’m just going to try my best and see where that takes me.”

Since coming to Iowa in 2008, Jiang has had to transition away from being mentored by his immediate family, to learning under an entirely new set of instructors.

“Being coached by someone not in the family was definitely something new,” Jiang said. “I still gave my new coaches my respect. It’s not like I rebelled or anything, but It was definitely different.”

There are pros and cons with anything in life, and being trained by close family members is no different.

“They were pretty hard on him and that’s why his fundamentals are so good,” Reive said. “It’s just a difficult environment to grown up in, so you tend to kind of want to rebel against that hard-core coaching and relationship. But it definitely has its perks. That’s where the talent comes in — on the same note, that’s where the work ethic comes in. So it’s a balance.

“I’m super-technical with the way that I coach and that’s kind of how he was brought up, too. From my perspective, I think it makes it easier for me to get through to him with stuff he already understands.”

With his final season in Hawkeye gymnastics winding down, Jiang feels a mix of emotions.

“It’s a little sad,” Jiang said. “I wish I could redshirt a year or stay longer — or that JD came earlier and I could have him as my coach for more than just my final year. But since it is my last year, I’m working as hard as I can.”

Reive expects big things from everyone on the squad, but especially from his returning senior All-American.

“I expect him to go out and hit every single one of his routines,” Reive said. “I want Michael to be one of the two or three top counting scores on the events that he does.”

Jiang shares those same expectations.

“I definitely want to be an All-American again,” Jiang said. “I want to have that title up on the goal board.”

During a 342.000-329.300 victory over Illinois-Chicago on Jan. 22 in the Field House, Jiang finished first in the parallel bars (14.400), tied for first in the horizontal bars (14.100), second in pommel horse (14.40) and third in vault (15.40).

The Hawkeye gymnastics team has given Jiang a second family that he has grown close to, and this family has just as lofty of expectations for him as his parents and grandfather do. For Jiang, competing in gymnastics is for more than individual glory. It’s also for family pride.