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Nation's students groomed for sports stardom
By Chen Xiangfeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-08-31 06:10

While the nation hails its gold medal winners at the 23th University Games in Turkey, Tsinghua, one of China's most prestigious universities, is determined to raise more stars from its college sports teams.

Hu Kai, China's first ever 100-meter-dash champion in any international events. [Xinhua]
Two of the 11 competing students from the university stole the show from China's big names like diving queen Guo Jingjing and women's swimming star Qi Hui, after winning two of the nation's three track and field gold medals at the Turkey Games.

Hu Kai, nicknamed the "Flying Spectacles Man" for his gold-rimmed glasses, grabbed an amazing gold from the men's 100m, the nation's first 100m title in any international event while Wang Ying was crowned in the women's triple jump.

The duo, like most athletes from Tsinghua have no professional background and are cultivated and developed under the school's sports training system.

With most of the athletes from other universities under the auspices of the State General Administration for Sports the governing body of China's professional sports and having years of professional training, athletes like Wang and Hu have had a different experience growing into star athletes.

"There is a difference between 'student athlete' and 'athlete student'. As a 'student athlete', the first identity is student. We are achieving good results without sacrificing education. Other elite athletes have established themselves before being admitted by universities," said Chen Weiqiang, director of Tsinghua sports education and research office.

According to Chen, who is also in charge of track and field team, the university established two ways to develop its college sports from grassroots level.

The first one is "speciality class", which was initiated in 1984.

The athlete-to-be selection started from such classes whose members were selected by Tsinghua affiliated primary or high schools nationwide. Class members undergo about 2-3 hours of training everyday.

The students all have to take part in the national College Entrance Examination if they want to study at Tsinghua University. They do however, have relatively lower requirements compared to other students.

Triple jumper Wang, now a senior in Tsinghua, is typical of the class after coming from an affiliated high school seven years ago.

The other way to scout potential in various sports, is to organize different winter training camps.

To better instruct youngsters, Tsinghua invites high-level coaches to coach the students.

Yu Fen, former national diving head coach and Zhang Heng, former head coach of the national shooting team, are among the most notable.

The university's efforts have led to success in many sports apart from athletics, with diving and shooting among the best.

Olympic diving champion Fu Mingxia and shooting veteran Wang Yifu used to be the students of the University.

Thanks to the influence of those sporting legends and with help from famous coaches, Tsinghua boasts a group of high-level divers and shooters.

The university also has established itself as a powerhouse in rowing.

The latest achievement was made last Tuesday in Zhejiang Province, where eight students from Tsinghua won the championships of the China College Rowing Open and were then awarded a chance to compete in the Asian Championships representing China.

The annual Tsinghua-Peking University Boat Race, which made its debut in 1999 and resembles the world-known Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race, has drawn nationwide attention and has helped inspire the development of rowing.

Academic course

Chen said that it is equally important for those students to finish their studies.

"Apart from daily training and summer and winter's month-long out-door training, they have a similar campus life to other students and have to pass all their examinations too," Chen said. "They have to make up for all the missing classes because of competitions."

Thanks to the combination of education and sports, more than 85 per cent of students enter non-sports related employment after graduation, Chen said.

It is a sharp contrast to previous Chinese athletes, who used to spend most of the time training and competing.

While only a few athletes are able to make big money after making notable sporting achievements, many of them struggle, especially after retirement.

Because of the lack of education and injuries, it is reported at least 20 per cent of the retired athletes in China are jobless.

(China Daily 08/31/2005 page15)

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