China’s Gold Medals Came at a High Price

The Los Angeles Times looks at the grueling lives of Chinese Olympic athletes:

While U.S. team members frequently hauled their parents to Beijing, most Chinese parents watched the Games on television. Chinese athletes train up to 10 hours a day, and even the children have only a few hours a day for academic instruction.

“You have no control over your own life. Coaches are with you all the time. People are always watching you, the doctors, even the chefs in the cafeteria. You have no choice but to train so as not to let the others down,” gymnast Chen Yibing told Chinese reporters last week after winning a gold medal on the rings. He said he could count the amount of time he’d spent with his parents “by hours . . . very few hours.”

The Chinese sports system was inspired by the Soviet Union. While many U.S. athletes have ambitious parents to nurture their talents, China’s future champions are drafted as young children for state-run boarding schools. Scouts trawl through the population of schoolchildren for potential champions, plucking out the extremely tall for basketball, the slim and double-jointed for diving — regardless of whether they know how to swim.

“I wanted to be a ballet dancer, but they said pingpong was right for me,” said Lu Lu, a 20-year-old player at the Xuanwu Sports Academy in Beijing.

For more on this topic, read “Why European and American Athletes Don’t Thank Their Countries When Winning Awards” from Zhujiang Evening News, via CDT.


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