To say that China has been doing great in the past several Olympic games would be an understatement. The fact that it has consistently placed among the top 1-3 in every Olympic summer games since the 2000 Sydney Olympics is a very impressive feat.
But while the country has proven its undeniable ability to produce world-class champions by bringing home massive hauls of medals at every international sporting event, its sports program has been questioned due to its allegedly brutal nature.
It’s no secret that the majority of the Chinese athletes begin their Olympic journey at very young ages. For the glory of the country, most of them sacrifice their childhoods and grow up among coaches, officials and fellow athletes, usually away from their families so they can focus on training.
For ten hours a day, children as young as four years old are put through a grueling training regimen programmed to make them future champions, reported iTV news. Sessions were reportedly conducted with a “military-like intensity.”
For the duration of the session, the children would follow their drills, forced to do stretches, bar hanging, pull ups or practice splits position. They are always pushed to their limits.
“You wonder why the Chinese women are so successful? Most of the men are coaches. The women are literally beaten into submission,” Johannah Doecke, diving coach at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in the United States, told Reuters in 2012. “If you said no to anything, you would be chastised, slapped around. It’s a brutal system.”
Doecke was a trainer for Chinese diver Chen Ni, who she described as someone who was terrified of making a mistake when she first came under her instruction. “If she made a mistake, she would instantly kowtow and apologize,” she said.
Working with other Chinese coaches in the U.S., she said they would tell her that she needed to be more forceful to get the best out of Chen.
“As I worked with Chen, I would hear from time to time, ‘if you want a good performance out of her, you’ll have to beat her’,” she said.
Almost half a million children undergo similar rigid training in China’s 3,000 sports schools. While the number may seem staggering, only the most talented and dedicated are selected to finally compete.
In one of the schools in Hangzhou, around 900 children are plucked from rural homes near the city every year, most of them in their nursery school years. While success stories are aplenty, with Chinese children being able to escape poverty through their international victories, stories of failure by par outnumber them.
Apart from allegations of abuse and brutality, the Chinese sports training system has also faced criticisms for the fates of those athletes who were less successful. Growing up trained to do one skill alone leaves them uneducated and ill-equipped to survive outside their practiced sport.
Zhang Shangwu, who was recruited by a sports school at the age of six, has been training hard all through his life had his dreams crashed after he suffered an injury when he was 18.
“I felt completely lost. I had been training since I was in nursery and suddenly I was just left, like an animal release back into the wild,” the now 32-year-old told iTV. “I had been trained like a professional so I had no education, no job skills.”
Zhang had since been living on the streets, finding means to earn some money.