Yihua Li is a former Chinese Olympic diver and four times World Champion. After retiring from competition, she moved to Canada and has been coaching in Pointe-Claire diving club for over 20 years. She helped guide Emilie Heymans to Olympic medals at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. At the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014, she coached Canada’s youngest diver, Vincent Riendeau.
Below is our exclusive interview with Yihua about her journey and her aims for the 2016 Olympics, written by our FCN Rio 2016 writer, Andrea Katz.
Bio: Andrea Katz is the founder of Fit Communications, a Canadian based marketing and communications company. Andrea graduated from the University of Manitoba (Canada) with a Bachelor of Arts double major in Psychology and Sociology and continued her education in the business world. With a lifetime commitment to sport and fitness, Andrea now puts her talents to use in the marketing of sport and fitness.
As the leading coach in Canada for diving, Yihua Li is currently preparing her athletes for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, with hopes of bringing home the gold for Canada. There are numerous aspects to preparing her team for the physical and mental challenge of an Olympic Games. I sat down with Yihua to find out how she plans to help her athletes reach the Olympic podium.
“Preparing a proper training plan to ensure the athletes feel good about themselves is key,” says Li. It is more than just getting her athletes physically prepared, the mental piece is just as imperative. “The Olympics only happen every four years so you do what you have to do. Do everything you can so you have no regrets walking into the Games and stay confident and motivated until the end of the Games.”
Li is no stranger to the Olympics both as an athlete and a coach. As an athlete, Li was the world champion and Olympian (4th place in 1984) and has attended seven summer Olympic Games as either a coach or an athlete. Growing up in China, Li recounts that she never had a sport mentor growing up. However, since coming to Canada and excelling at an elite level in diving, things have changed. Today, both Mitch Geller and Tommy McLeod are her mentors in sport. She is very grateful for the constant motivation and learning opportunities that are at her doorstep.
“My athletes’ day to day improvement combined with the chance at winning an Olympic medal is what inspires me every day,” says Li.
The training regime leading up to this summer’s Games is intense. She certifies positive reinforcement and moral support are key to ensuring her athletes remain focused and in good spirits. The stress of the Games is a lot to manage for both the athletes and coaches, and Li does her best to take that on for her athletes.
Leading up the Games, Canada’s diving hopefuls will compete at international events, compete at the Olympic venue, intensify training and focus, and attend a training camp in the Olympic environment. Li has taken numerous athletes to the Olympics and medaled, and she hopes that this Games will continue on that road of success.
With only 11% of coaches being female at the 2012 Summer Olympics Games in London, I asked Li why she thought the numbers were so low. “To be a high level woman coach you do have to give up a lot. Family, relationships and kids all suffer. Not all women coaches are willing to do so,” says Li.
When I first set out to interview Yihua Li I didn’t know what to expect. What I now know is this… This powerhouse woman is all business. The Games is not an event of excitement for her, rather it is a stressful climb to the top. She has lead divers to countless successes, international championships and Olympic Games. She is so focused, so determined and so dedicated to her athletes and the sport of diving. There is no room for excuses. When you recognize that working hard, being dedicated and setting your sights to your highest potential, you can do anything.
Wishing Yihua Li and the Canadian Diving Team the very best on their road to Rio 2016!