Why the East is gold
If the Shichahai Sports activities College have been a nation, it will rank 35th within the all-time checklist of most Olympic gold medals. The college, a leafy cluster of blue and white buildings sitting on the banks of the Shichahai lake in Beijing, has produced 14 Olympic golds for China-five greater than India and one mo
If the Shichahai Sports activities College have been a nation, it will rank 35th within the all-time checklist of most Olympic gold medals. The college, a leafy cluster of blue and white buildings sitting on the banks of the Shichahai lake in Beijing, has produced 14 Olympic golds for China-five greater than India and yet another than Mexico.
On this afternoon, the varsity’s 13 coaching centres and three gymnasiums are crammed with aspiring Olympians, some as younger as eight. On degree one, an 11-year-old woman perfects her golf swing-the newest addition to the Olympic sports activities being taught at Shichahai. A flooring above her, a dozen younger kids practise Taekwondo and the Chinese language martial artwork Wushu.
The most important coaching centre, unsurprisingly, is reserved for the 2 sports activities most revered in China-and wherein this faculty has had essentially the most success-badminton and desk tennis. Each afternoon, Tian Junning prowls the badminton courts, notepad in hand, with an eagle eye. The 2-time nationwide champion within the ’80s has educated China’s Olympians for a decade, producing a few of its largest stars. One among his early college students, Zhang Jun, received gold in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004), whereas his most up-to-date success, Zhang Nan, received blended doubles gold in London in 2012. Badminton (16) and desk tennis (24) collectively account for a fifth of all Olympic golds China has received.
What does Tian, tasked with recognizing and creating China’s subsequent era of Olympians at Shichahai, see as the key behind China turning into an Olympic powerhouse-ranking second, first and second previously three Video games and hoping to repeat its podium end at Rio come August 5-from a relative sporting backwater three a long time in the past? “In my sport,” explains the previous badminton champion, “it is all concerning the expertise pool. Simply the truth that the game is so in style with excessive public participation ensures all children right here have a deep curiosity. For the coaches, this implies we now have huge expertise pool from which we try to decide one of the best.”
In addition to, a transparent nationwide sports activities coverage has been the largest driver of success, says Tian. It wasn’t at all times so: when China re-entered the Olympics at Los Angeles in 1984, after a three-decade absence, the nation’s sporting system was in disarray.
The Shichahai faculty provides a snapshot of China’s lengthy and winding Olympic journey. The nation established a powerful Soviet-inspired sports activities system when the Folks’s Republic was based in 1949. The college was arrange in 1958, a part of a small group of elite sporting establishments.
However the begin of the decade-long Cultural Revolution (1966-76) shortly after, when aggressive sports activities have been banned completely in China, was a blow. Within the ’60s, Shichahai was closed down and its trainers despatched to work in coal mines, a part of a Maoist marketing campaign to vilify schoolteachers and intellectuals. The Pink Military even took over the varsity’s services, and the scholars, if younger, have been despatched dwelling; if not, to work in villages.
In LA in 1984, barely a decade after the turmoil had subsided, China nonetheless shocked with 15 golds (helped largely by the Soviet Union staying away). Solely 5 golds adopted 4 years on.
Tian and lots of others in China see 2001-the 12 months Beijing received the bid to host the Olympics in 2008-as a turning level. The earlier 12 months, China had finished properly in Sydney, primarily on the again of its superiority in desk tennis, gymnastics and diving.
Chinese language directors launched what got here to be often called the ‘119 Challenge’, referring to the variety of golds on supply in observe and discipline, swimming and outside water sports activities. In Sydney, China had received solely a type of 119, within the 20 km girls’s stroll.
The challenge introduced in a flush of funds to varsities throughout the nation in a newly arrange Nationwide Sports activities System, which created a streamlined and clear three-tier administration. On the underside tier have been dozens of specialized sports activities colleges, akin to Shichahai, which might, via annual examinations, select one of the best younger expertise in varied Olympic sports activities in numerous age teams.
From the colleges, the scholars would advance to provincial groups, which might then compete in nationwide tournaments. Most significantly, China introduced in dozens of overseas coaches for most of the 119 competitions, and disciplines akin to fencing and trampoline, the place the nation did not have a lot of a sporting historical past. For the 2008 Olympics, Chinese language athletes have been educated by 38 overseas coaches.
China started reaping the advantages in Athens in 2004, the place it completed second within the general medals tally and received its first males’s observe occasion within the 110 metre hurdles, busting the parable that Asians could not win observe. It launched Liu Xiang as considered one of China’s hottest sportsmen.
Within the lead-up to the 2008 video games, China spent greater than $500 million coaching athletes. It ended up with 51 golds, greater than every other nation. From successful golds solely in 10 disciplines in Sydney, China received gold in as many as 16 of the entire 28 disciplines, validating considerably the objectives of Challenge 119. The programme’s largest success got here in London 4 years on, when Chinese language swimmers Solar Yang and Ye Shiwen got here out of nowhere to win males’s and ladies’s gold respectively.
TOP-DOWN OR BOTTOM-UP?
Challenge 119 might have introduced China Olympic glory, but it surely has additionally triggered debate on whether or not the nation’s sports activities system must be geared solely in the direction of successful medals. The programme’s critics have mentioned that the nation could be higher served in making an attempt to give attention to the grassroots slightly than on manufacturing star athletes. Huang Yaling, professor at Beijing Sports activities College, argues that China’s sports activities system must focus extra on making a public tradition of sport than on securing medals in obscure sports activities akin to trampoline, which have little following however have grow to be gold medal priorities for results-obsessed sports activities directors.
Athletes too have slammed the inflexible nature of the top-down state-administered sporting system. Tennis star Li Na stop the programme and complained that provincial and nationwide degree sports activities directors have been interfering an excessive amount of in each side of athletes’ lives. The Chinese language gymnastics programme has come below particular criticism for enrolling kids as younger as 4 or 5, and coaching them in bases distant from their properties. The extraordinary strain on athletes and directors has led to numerous controversies over alleged falsifying of the ages of gymnasts.
The present focus is on making an attempt to succeed in a greater steadiness between the top-down state-driven sports activities programme and a bottom-up give attention to the grassroots, says Zhang Jin, vice-principal of the Shichahai faculty. “We’ve got some coordination with the nationwide coverage, for example, by way of what disciplines we train,” she says. However the faculty is more and more being left to its personal gadgets by way of how rigidly or not it chooses to coach college students. Not like previously, the place athletes within the state-run sports activities programme spent their complete education on coaching, Zhang says the programs are extra well-rounded, with college students spending half the day at school.
Slightly than Russia, america and Australia are the brand new benchmarks. The rising affect of overseas coaches has helped drastically change a lot of the older Soviet mannequin. Most of China’s high athletes at the moment are coaching overseas-swimmers Solar Yang and Ye Shiwen, for example, educated as a lot in Australia as of their provincial sports activities faculty in Hangzhou.
The opening up of the Chinese language system has been two-way: on the Shichahai badminton coaching centre, younger athletes from Israel and South Korea practice with Chinese language college students. On the wall are portraits of overseas athletes who have been right here, and at the moment are difficult Chinese language dominance within the sport.
In the meantime, head coach Tian ceaselessly patrols the courts, barking directions to the younger aspiring Olympians. He’ll be intently following occasions in Rio. Finally, he says, it’s glory on the Video games that sustains public curiosity in sport. “Persons are comfortable to see us do properly. It is what conjures up them to grow to be enthusiastic about sport in a approach they weren’t earlier than,” he says. Nothing sells like success.
Observe the author on Twitter @ananthkrishnan