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Retired sports stars target new goals

By Zhao Yimeng | China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-14 09:49
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Gong Weijie gives a free badminton lesson to Tibetan children in Yushu, Qinghai province, in 2017. [Photo provided to]

Former elite athletes use ingrained determination to make fresh starts in life. Zhao Yimeng reports.

After ending a career of days built around a rigorous schedule of training, meals, working out and sleeping, former badminton champion Gong Weijie opted to go into sports education when he retired at the age of 29.

As co-founder of a professional badminton training club in Beijing, Gong turned to a new starting line and dedicated himself to providing a platform that will allow children and teenagers to learn the sport.

Passing up the opportunity to coach the official sports team of Xiamen, Fujian province, Gong opened the club with his business partner, Sun Qihong, to promote physical education in Beijing.

Learning badminton can play an important role in the healthy development of teenagers, and it can also supplement education at school and in the home, according to Gong.

"The idea of 'Keep going, don't give up' can shape a child's personality," he said.

Sun, a sports training graduate from the Capital University of Physical Education and Sports, said the club operates four schools in Beijing, each with three to five coaches, and it has about 2,000 registered members.

"Our coaches are either retired pros or graduates who majored in sports education (with a focus on badminton)," he said.

Gong visits the training schools every week, offering advice to the coaches and sometimes demonstrating shots to students or speaking directly with them.

In videos released on the club's official social media account, Gong demonstrates standard badminton stances in detail and shares techniques used in competitions.

"Nowadays, thanks to the country's development, teenagers live comfortable lives without any worries about food or clothes. However, their lives are so happy that they know little about handling frustration, and sometimes they can't resolve difficulties," the 38-year-old said.

"As they grow up, the sports training they have received will encourage them to carry on when they encounter challenges," he added, noting that he and his colleagues hope the tuition will cultivate a "never say die" spirit.

Gong started playing badminton at age 5. Life was simple when he got up at 5:30 am every day, sat on the back of his parent's bicycle for the journey to the sports school and started training.

At age 11, he went to a new school in Xiamen, where he trained to become a professional badminton player.

When he was 18, Gong was selected for the national badminton team and later beat Danish player Peter Gade, who topped the world rankings from 1998 to 2001.

Gong was a rising star in the national team, but in 2009, he injured an ankle the day before the China Open, prefiguring his early retirement from badminton.

Despite several operations and medical rehabilitation, the injury still caused him great pain, so Gong was forced to end his career on the badminton court at age 26.

However, he didn't sign a retirement contract with Chinese sports authorities until he was 29, and the three-year recovery period was a difficult time. "It was a transitional period. It was really difficult. There are no words to describe it," he said.

Video:Retired sports stars aim at new goals

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