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Legendary coach Chang keeping China on target

China Daily | Updated: 2021-08-31 09:12
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Chang Jingchun, Olympic coach on Yang Haoran. [Photo provided to China Daily]

When Yang Haoran won gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games, his coach, Chang Jingchun, was in the stands, tears streaming down his face.

A similar scene had played out at Sydney 2000, when Cai Yalin, also coached by Chang, was crowned champion.

Now, Cai is a coach and Yang is his protege in the Hebei provincial team. Chang told Xinhua that guiding the disciple of his disciple to gold in his fifth Olympics as a coach was a truly special experience.

Kick for gold

Yang shot to prominence as a 16-year-old debutant when he won gold at the 2012 Asian Championships. A host of major titles followed, however Olympic gold proved elusive.

A huge favorite heading into the Rio 2016 Games, he crashed out in the qualification stage in 31st place as his career hit an all-time low.

In 2018, the appointment of Chang as national team coach signaled a fresh start for Yang. It took some time for the two to gel as they worked on technical details, but after an extra year of behind-closed-doors training their efforts paid off.

The 25-year-old took bronze in the men's 10m air rifle and won gold in the 10m air rifle mixed team event alongside women's individual gold medalist Yang Qian.

"There were doubts over him after Rio. When I took over as his coach, he was not in good condition, and there were more doubts," said Chang. "I understand the journey has been really long and difficult for him."

However, with Yang struggling to score heavily in the qualification round in Tokyo, it looked as if those years of hard work would be in vain. He, quite literally, needed a kick to save his medal dream.

"Haoran came to me and said, 'Coach, maybe you should give me a kick now?' I just stared him directly in the eyes and kicked him. He did not say anything, but just dusted himself down and went to his position," Chang revealed.

Yang returned with 211.7 points to secure a final berth before pocketing his first Olympic gold medal.

"Haoran told me later that kick did actually work. Whenever he was wavering, he simply thought of the kick from his coach, and then he was able to stay focused," he said.

Distinguished career

Chang began his coaching career in the 1970s, when he was just 21. At that time, the rifle events were dominated by European nations and the United States.

"Chinese pistol athletes always took home multiple golds from international competitions, but our men's rifle athletes could not even qualify for those tournaments. We were looked down upon by our foreign rivals and by teammates in other events," Chang recalled.

In 1997, he was appointed national team coach and set about transforming the squad's fortunes.

Three years' later, Cai, an underdog at the time, took men's 10m air rifle gold at the Sydney Olympics.

"That gold was very inspiring. It was from then that China's men's rifle team shook off its poor reputation and emerged from the shadows to take center stage," he said.

At the next Olympics in Athens, Chang led Zhu Qinan and Li Jie to a one-two finish in the men's 10m air rifle. Four years later, Zhu claimed a silver on home soil.

Currently, the world records of both the men's individual and team 10m air rifle events are held by Chinese shooters.

But Chang said the most memorable moment of his life was a surprise party in 2008 attended by over 60 of his former athletes to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his coaching career.

"That's the biggest joy of being a coach. Every time I think of that moment I feel happy from the bottom of my heart," said the 63-year-old.

"The ties with these sincere and righteous disciples are my greatest privilege, and helping them to become good athletes and good people is my biggest success."


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