I have heard whispers of China’s heavy handed training tactics – death threats for losers, taking away homes of bronze medalists, etc. – but until now, they were nothing more than rumors. The New York Times confirmed these stories today.
Juliet Macur brings us the story of Yang Wenjun, a gold medal winning canoer, who has been prohibited from retiring. He has an unspecified liver condition, and is exhausted by the training. Simply put, his heart isn’t in it. However, his lack of education and any other skills, in addition to the threats that he would lose his home and retirement benefits, prevent him from retiring.
“I do not want to work as an athlete, but as an athlete here I have no freedom to choose my future,” Yang said, speaking through the team’s official interpreter. “As a child, I didn’t learn anything but sport, and now what do I do? I can’t do anything else. I have my own dreams, but it is very difficult. I don’t have the foundation to make them come true.”
In sport schools sponsored by the Chinese government, with the exception of diving, academic studies take a backseat to the sport. Backseat might be an overstatement, because the sports are often the only thing that children learn. Say what you want about the American education system, and sports’ part in that system, but student-athletes have the opportunity to take advantage of an education. Not giving children any chance at an education because they are athletes is unforgivable.
After the Beijing games, China will have a legacy of being one of the more interesting hosts to the Olympic games in some time. It’s a shame that the Olympics will also leave them with the legacy of uneducated, world class athletes.