Gymnastics in China

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Last weekend, there were various reports circulating about former Chinese  gymnast  Zhang Shangwu who is living on the streets  in China and begging for money. A few blogs and gymnastics news websites picked up on the story – Gymnastics Examiner, International Gymnast – which has helped to draw interest to Shangwu’s situation.

It seems now that things may be looking up for Shangwu thanks to the  media coverage that has been drawn to him since a passerby took a photograph of him during a street performance;

A non-profit organization, and the owner of a hotel chain were reported to have expressed their willingness to offer Zhang a job, and the Championship Foundation, established by short track speed skating gold medalist Yang Yang, said the foundation is contacting Zhang to offer “appropriate psychological counseling”.

Great news for Shangwu, and hopefully it all works out for him. Of course this has spurred on another discussion on how China treats it’s top athletes, using a “Soviet – Style”  or “whole nation” approach. Malcolm Moore from the Telegraph discusses how the Chinese scout out their top talent from a young age and how they groom them, once their careers are over the gymnasts are left alone to adjust to a “normal” lifestyle;

Under the “whole nation” system, China roots out talented young children and puts them in special academies from as young as four years old.

If they are able to progress, athletes who make the cut are put into a relentless training programme, filled with targets they must regularly hit, and paid by the government a monthly wage of between 1,000 yuan and 3,000 yuan a month (£96 to £288).

Each year, the best athletes are sent to national training centres in Beijing, where they compete to enter China’s national team. If they succeed, they will move with their families into the training centre and live there all year round.

Gymnastics is one of the top sports in China and seems to always be in the spotlight somehow, whether it’s “torturing photos” or age scandals or mistreatment, it’s always somehow in the news every few months.Those who have seen into China’s gymnastics system have often been shocked at what they have seen, like Sir Matthew Pinset;

“I know it is gymnastics and that sport has to start its athletes young,” he said, before the Beijing games. “But I have to say I was really shocked. I do think those kids are being abused.” One note, found pinned to the wall of the training centre before the Beijing Olympics simply read: “Leaders put pressure on us, subordinates put pressure on us, pressure each other. Pressure yourself. There will be no breakthrough without the hardest hardship. You cannot be a champion without going through the ultimate pressure”.

Read the full article on the Telegraph website. One of the most fantastic articles written about China’s powerhouse is by the BBC’s Ollie Williams. I hope that the former Chinese champions and Olympians will be treated better than Zhang Shangwu has been and that the current media attention will highlight the issue to keep everyone safe in the future.

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