China’s Obsession With Olympic Gold Drives Children To Tears

Retired athletes in China face difficulties adjusting in a society where standards of education among the booming middle-class are ever-increasing.

China's Olympic schools

China has been notorious for its often unhealthy passion for the Olympic Games for decades now.

Training conditions for both children and adults are so grueling that they sometimes, according to several accounts, border on physical and emotional abuse.

After his visit to Shichahai Sports School, Beijing, in 2005, Britain's four-time Olympic rowing champion Sir Matthew Pinsent revealed he saw little girls with “leathery, calloused hands” and a “young boy with red marks clearly visible on his back.”

In the 15 years leading to the Games staged in Beijing in 2008, enthusiasm even among the masses was so fanatical that more than 4,000 children in China were named “Aoyun,” meaning Olympic Games.

However, attitudes are changing toward sports in the wake of rising educational standards.

Schools that solely focus on sports and related training are reportedly losing their appeal and those left are struggling to revamp their controversial reputation.

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One academy, the Shanghai Yangpu Youth Amateur Athletic School, for instance is advertising gymnastics as an after-school recreational activity, calling it "happy gymnastics."

But pupils don’t look so happy.

A coach wipes

A coach helps a girl

Children practice handstand

A boys lies on ground

Students practice

A boy practices

Disturbing tales about ex-athletes or Olympic winners struggling to make a career post-games are also one of the many reasons Chinese parents are not letting their children join sports academies.

In 2011, Zhang Shangwu, 28, a former specialist on the still rings, made international headlines after he sold the two gold medals he won at the World University championships in 2001 for just $15 in order to buy food.

With time, it’s becoming rather difficult for China to pursue its trademark obsession with winning.

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With the Rio Summer Olympics less than three months away, the China Sports Daily recently reported the number of Chinese table tennis players under training had decreased by almost a quarter since 1987 to 23,266.

“In this changing situation, we must re-examine the traditional training system and model for competitive sports," Liu Shaonong, head of the table tennis and badminton center of China's General Administration of Sport stated in an interview.

While change might come slowly and gradually, the authorities are, at least, taking a step in the right direction by acknowledging the harshness of the existing training system.