Olympics a turning point for race-walking
Updated: 2012-07-25 10:55:21
SALUZZO, Italy - Chinese elite race-walkers have been well-honed to make their mark in the upcoming London Olympic Games, according to the famed Italian coach Sandro Damilano.
Sandro Damilano, 62, a coach immersed in race walking for nearly 40 years, was confident that the four Chinese athletes he has been training for over three years are physically, mentally and technically prepared for the Olympics.
"I did change a lot about them, both technically and mentally, and also their way of living life. I believe we did a good job and I think we can hope to see them do really well in London," he said.
Chinese race-walkers have not tasted success in the Olympics since 2000 when they won their last gold in the women's 20-kilometer distance in Sydney.
Under the guidance of Damilano, Wang Zhen, Liu Hong, Si Tianfeng and Li Jianbo are supposed to have good chance to end the 12-year drought in London.
They will fly to London from their base in Saluzzo, a small Italian town near the border of France. Wang and Liu will compete in the men's and women's 20km race respectively, while Si and Li will vie for the gold in the men's 50km distance.
"I think they prepared for the Olympics very well. Since November they have either been training in Saluzzo, or travelling around Europe to compete," Damilano said.
"They stayed at home for less than 40 days in between. I think that now all of them can be very competitive at the Olympics. London will mark a turning point for China's race-walking," he said.
Damilano accepted an offer from the Chinese Athletics Association after the Beijing Olympic Games, where his race-walkers won one gold and one bronze.
"In Beijing I reached one of the peaks in my coaching career, I needed new incentives to go on," he said.
"I realized that the Chinese Athletics Association's proposal was serious and they were ready to work following my pace, then I agreed to take the job," he recalled.
In March 2009, the first group of top Chinese race-walkers came to Saluzzo to train under him. Their co-operation did not kick off to a smooth start as the athletes had to change their life style as well as training and competing philosophy.
The young Chinese race-walkers then were not used to training abroad and competing in many different events, according to Damilano.
"The big problem for them was they worked hard but did not have a real planning. They could certainly put on some great performance during the year, but no one knew when it would happen, " he said.
"And they very often would perform well in an unknown event somewhere around China, and people would suspect that the referees could have been too kind to them," he added.
According to Damilano, the main change happened to the Chinese athletes is their perception of the way to grow up professionally.
"Well, now they have an international mindset. I told them it was important to participate at all events including the small challengers, not just the top events," he said.
"This helped them to learn how to manage their competitions and know more about the opponents and the rules. And the referees now know more about them and are aware that these Chinese race-walkers are professionals who can do well all year long," he said.
The Italian illustrious coach also improved his Chinese proteges' techniques.
"They had very low consideration of the most important aspect of race-walking - the movement of the hips. They were very stiff on their hips and this meant that their pace frequency was too high and the step too short, so it could cost them a lot of energy when they try to keep the fast pace," he said.
With the flawed techniques, the Chinese athletes' chances of getting red cards could also be high, according to Damilano.
"In the past, even when the Chinese walkers, mostly females, were strong, they were often disqualified during the race. Now, with the work we did together, they have a cleaner and effective technique," he said. "They are now more confident as they know their chance of being disqualified is lower."
Confidence and mental toughness are two of the most important aspects of race-walking and, in addition to being technically better, the Chinese race-walkers are now more comfortable in traveling abroad.
"It was hard at the beginning but now they're even more international than me. I would say that the only problem is they do not speak English," Damilano said.
"They are amazing professionals. I think it is because they are so focused on the training that at the end of the day they are too exhausted to even think to learn a foreign language," he said.
But every disadvange has its advantage, and the Chinese athletes' inability to speak foreign languages has been inducive to maitaining a healthy relations between them and Demilano.
"My relations with the athletes before them would always get too intense, but now, because of the language problem, we have some distance and our relationship is mainly about the sports," said the Italian coach.
He communicated with those Chinese walkers through body and hand language instead of words.
"There's no problem in training, but in the competitions, it might be a little difficult to pass my thoughts and my experience about the tactics to them," Damilano added.