Life lessons for Olympic stars
Updated: 2011-04-11 08:03
By Todd Balazovic (China Daily)
Sixteen medal-winning athletes have left the hustle and bustle of Beijing for the quiet cornfields of the US Midwest to get a lesson in how to deal with life in the spotlight after clinching Olympic glory.
Zhang Yining teaches students the finer points of ping-pong at Beijing Sport University on Dec 23, 2010. Provided to China Daily
The second "China Champions" program, which partners Beijing Sport University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is giving 16 of China's best athletes a nine-month course in vital studies that were overlooked while training to chase their Olympic dream.
"It's training for their life off the field, their post-athletic careers," said Matt Beyer, China Champions coordinator and president of the University of Wisconsin alumni association in Beijing, who helped organize the first batch of champions in 2005.
"It's skills for life that can be used beyond competition, whether it's learning about a new culture, learning the science of sport, or training to coach. It is also an opportunity for people in the US to learn about life in China from the nation's best sporting heroes."
For Zhang Yining, who won four gold medals in ping-pong during the 2004 and 2008 Beijing Olympics, it's an opportunity to spend time on skills required for daily life off the field.
The 28-year-old, who arrived in the US at the beginning of April, said: "It will be a great chance to learn about American culture while also improving my English."
While Zhang will be dedicating much of her time taking courses in US history, she hopes she can also offer US students a few tips of her own. "I'm also interested in promoting ping-pong in the US, by teaching kids how to play and letting more people know what it's about," she said.
Zhang will be joined by Han Xiaopeng, who won China's first winter gold medal in freestyle skiing, four martial arts competitors, three swimmers, three members of China's curling team, a top badminton player, a softball pitcher, a kayaker and a female weightlifter, as well as Gong Ruina, Tang Jingzhi, Qiu Hongxia, Zhou Yan, Liu Yin, Xue Qinshuang, He Lumin, Wang Shuo, Zhou Yafei, Shi Xin, Zhong Hongyan, Liu Xia and Wang Lihong, all of whom have achieved world recognition for their sporting prowess.
Chi Jian, chancellor of Beijing Sports University and one of the founders of the China Champions program, said the difference between high-end athletic programs in China and the US is that athletes in China focus solely on honing their physical abilities, while US athletes are often required to meet an educational standard.
"In China, the idea is quite prevalent that the athletes should be trained as early as possible. Most talented youngsters, after they are selected, devote so much of their time to training that many lack a proper education," he said.
While the Chinese sports stars are relishing the chance to expand their skills in the US, for the sports-crazy residents of Madison, Wisconsin, it's an opportunity to learn more about Chinese sport and culture.
"This is not only a great opportunity for the university, but for our entire nation," said Biddy Martin, chancellor for University of Wisconsin-Madison, who spearheads the program in the US.
She said through their experiences with the athletes they've been able to better understand the rapidly developing competitive sports scene in China.
"It's been a great opportunity for us to learn from our Chinese counterparts," she said.
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