Inside the intense Chinese schools where kids as young as six are training to be Olympic champions
Jul 26, 2021, 12:45 IST
Sports academies in China have sculpted children into Olympic champions for decades.
China's intensive training tactics were questionable, but they proved successful in the past. The host country dominated the 2008 Beijing Olympics with 51 gold medals.
Traditionally, children as young as six endured grueling training at sports schools in hopes of reaching glory at the Olympic level.
But now, with the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games less than three months away, training practices at sports schools in China are unraveling.
The established system at sports academies cannot stand up to the rising expectations of education standards among China's thriving middle class.
As more emphasis is placed on education, fewer parents are willing to subject their children to such rigorous physical training routines.
As a result, some sports schools have closed entirely.
There are 2,183 institutions responsible for producing 95% of the country's Olympians. Government numbers reveal this count is down from 3,687 in 1990.
Other schools are not shutting down, but instead adjusting their rigid training schedules to allow more time for academics.
Some schools, like the No.1 Children's Sports School Pudong New Area, have improved teacher training.
The Shanghai Yangpu Youth Amateur Athletic School is trying to recruit new students by visiting kindergartens and reframing gymnastics as a fun, after-school activity to parents. "We call it happy gymnastics," said principal Zhu Zengxiang.
The Shanghai Sports School says it wants to use sports training to educate children. Many other schools are adopting this philosophy.
Former athletes like Wang Linwen, who retired after five years in 2009, remember a time when weekdays were reserved for training with only the weekend to study. She says improvements like these, no matter how small, are necessary for children in sport schools.
"(Reform) is good, that way sports school students won't come out knowing nothing," Linwen said.