Some leave China to com­pete

Fierce com­pe­ti­tion in the na­tional Olympic team has led to more ath­letes mi­grat­ing

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By SUN XIAOCHEN in Rio de Janeiro sunx­i­aochen@chi­

In the age of glob­al­iza­tion, com­pet­ing at the Olympics means po­ten­tially com­ing up against for­mer team­mates who now rep­re­sent ri­val na­tions — a re­al­ity Team China must con­front in Rio de Janeiro.

Sports with a strong base in China pro­duce many worldclass ath­letes, and a grow­ing num­ber are be­ing wel­comed by other coun­tries to use their skills in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, such as at the Sum­mer Games.

In ta­ble ten­nis alone, as many as 30 ath­letes born in China or who have Chi­nese ances­try have qual­i­fied for one of the 140 places in the men’s and women’s sin­gles draws at the Rio Olympics, not in­clud­ing the 12 rep­re­sent­ing China, Hong Kong and Chi­nese Taipei.

When the women’s team com­pe­ti­tion be­tween China and Brazil be­gan on Fri­day, the first sin­gles match looked like a game from the Chi­nese Na­tional Games, as both play­ers spoke the same lan­guage and used a sim­i­lar at­tack­ing style.

The pad­dler in the Brazil jersey who re­ceived huge cheers from the crowd was Gui Lin, a Chi­nese-born ath­lete who moved to the South Amer­i­can na­tion in 2005.

Al­though Gui lost to her op­po­nent, Liu Shi­wen, the world No 1, in just 19 min­utes, for her to ap­pear at the Olympics at all — not to men­tion rep­re­sent­ing the host na­tion — was a dream come true.

“If I’d stayed in China, I wouldn’t have had the op­por­tu­nity to com­pete at the Olympics be­cause there are way too many play­ers there. It was not an easy de­ci­sion to make, but it was all worth it,” said the 22-yearold, who lives and trains in Sao Paulo.

The matchup un­der­lined a trend dat­ing back to the 1980s

If I’d stayed in China, I wouldn’t have had the op­por­tu­nity to com­pete at the Olympics.” Gui Lin, ta­ble ten­nis player rep­re­sent­ing Brazil

of Chi­nese ath­letes switch­ing na­tion­al­ity to com­pete for other na­tions, driven by the prospect of brighter ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties.

As a world power in sports like ta­ble ten­nis, bad­minton and div­ing, China is never short of tal­ent thanks to its rig­or­ous State-funded cul­ti­va­tion sys­tem. How­ever, the fierce com­pe­ti­tion for spots in the na­tional team has forced some top ath­letes near­ing or ex­ceed­ing the age of 30 to mi­grate, par­tic­u­larly to Europe, for the chance to com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally and make a bet­ter liv­ing from their hard-earned skills.

The two old­est ta­ble ten­nis play­ers at the Rio Olympics — He Zhi­wen, 54, and Ni Xialian, 53 — were among the first gen­er­a­tion of na­tional team play­ers who be­came nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens of Euro­pean na­tions. The Chi­nese me­dia dubbed them “the for­eign le­gion”.

“The Olympics is just so spe­cial that you can’t turn it down when the of­fer comes knock­ing,” said He, who has rep­re­sented Spain since ob­tain­ing cit­i­zen­ship in 2002. “Mov­ing to this coun­try, I have been able to ex­tend my ca­reer, so I’m grate­ful for the sup­port it of­fered.”

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