Ath­letes look to life beyond sports

But lack of ed­u­ca­tion ham­per­ing tran­si­tion to new ca­reers

China Daily (USA) - - RIO OLYMPICS - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@chi­

Chi­nese Olympians look­ing beyond sport­ing glory to start new lives are be­ing ham­pered by a lack of ed­u­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to a for­mer cham­pion speed skater.

With the 2016 Rio Olympics draw­ing to a close on Sun­day, a group of Chi­nese ath­letes have set their sights on re­tire­ment or tak­ing in­def­i­nite leave from sports af­ter years of rig­or­ous train­ing, some­times at the cost of fam­ily life.

Fol­low­ing the prac­tice of their pre­de­ces­sors, cham­pion ath­letes still fa­vor of­fers from within the coun­try’s State-run sports sys­tem to be­come coaches and team manage­ment of­fi­cials, ex­tend­ing their ath­letic skills to help a new­gen­er­a­tion.

All na­tional teams in China’s six strong events— in­clud­ing ta­ble ten­nis, bad­minton and gym­nas­tics — com­pet­ing in Rio are guided by for­mer cham­pion head coaches.

“That’s why Chi­nese ta­ble ten­nis could con­tinue to dom­i­nate the world for ages, be­cause they chose to stay to pass on their knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Zhang Jike, men’s ta­ble ten­nis sin­gles sil­ver medal­ist in Rio.

He was re­fer­ring coach Liu Guo­liang, Olympic cham­pion At­lanta Games.

Many of China’s for­mer sport­ing he­roes have be­come gov­ern­ment or sports manage­ment of­fi­cials, op­er­at­ing in their re­spec­tive fields.

Ac­cord­ing to the Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sport of China, 163 Chi­nese Olympic cham­pi­ons had re­tired by last month. Bei­jing news­pa­per The Mir­ror found that nearly 60 per­cent of them had been em­ployed as of­fi­cials by gov­ern­ment de­part­ments.

No­table ath­letes who have be­come of­fi­cials in­clude four-time Olympic cham­pion ta­ble ten­nis player Deng Yap­ing. In 2009, she was ap­pointed a deputy sec­re­tary of the Bei­jingMu­nic­i­pal Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Youth League of China be­fore be­ing moved to the post of sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Peo­ple’s Daily.

Wang Li, a sports manage­ment pro­fes­sor at Bei­jing Sport Univer­sity, said: “To ap­point high-pro­file for­mer ath­letes, es­pe­cially those from the coun­try’s tra­di­tional events, as of­fi­cials is a re­ward for their hard­workas well as acom­mon prac­tice to pro­mote the sol­i­dar­ity em­bod­ied by their ca­reers.”

With the bound­ary be­tween sports and en­ter­tain­ment be­com­ing blurred, the new gen­er­a­tion of sports celebri­ties, such as star swim­mer Sun Yang, have sensed an op­por­tu­nity to em­brace show­biz.

Hand­ing Yuyou Me­dia Group in Zhe­jiang prov­ince said in June it had signed a con­tract with Sun, who will be­come the com­pany’s first con­tracted en­ter­tainer.

Al­though he has yet to re­tire, the deal has paved way for Sun, who won the men’s 200m freestyle in Rio, to cash in on his pop­u­lar­ity for a new­ca­reer in en­ter­tain­ment. He is not alone. A glit­ter­ing ar­ray of re­tired sports stars, in­clud­ing Olympic men’s div­ing cham­pion Tian Liang, gym­nas­tics cham­pion LiXiaopeng and twotime to his head a three-time at the 1996 Yang Yang, ten­nis Grand Slam win­ner Li Na have all tried their hands at TV act­ing and ap­pear­ances on re­al­ity shows.

But Yang Yang, a for­mer cham­pion speed skater who is an In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee mem­ber, said more all-around ed­u­ca­tion and oc­cu­pa­tional train­ing should be pro­vided for a wider range of re­tired ath­letes — not just stars — to make the tran­si­tion from sports to other work­places.

“We’ve wit­nessed many sad sto­ries of for­mer cham­pi­ons strug­gling to make a liv­ing with­out suf­fi­cient skills and knowl­edge when their ath­letic fame dims. The lack of ed­u­ca­tion in their early years should be made up,” said Yang, who won China’s first Win­ter Olympic gold medal in the women’s 500m at the 2002 Salt Lake Win­ter Games.

The most typ­i­cal case Yang men­tioned was that of Ai Dong­mei, a for­mer na­tional marathon cham­pion, who planned to sell all her medals in 2007 when she was un­em­ployed.

To help fel­low re­tired ath­letes re­dis­cover their post-sports ca­reers, Yang set up the Cham­pion Foun­da­tion in Bei­jing in 2011, pro­vid­ing for­mer ath­letes with lan­guage, oc­cu­pa­tional and hu­man re­source ed­u­ca­tion.

We’ve wit­nessed many sad sto­ries of for­mer cham­pi­ons strug­gling to make a liv­ing with­out suf­fi­cient skills and knowl­edge ... ” a for­mer speed skater


Two-time Grand Slam win­ner Li Na at a pro­mo­tional event in Nan­jing, Jiangsu prov­ince, on May, 2016.


For­mer NBA star Yao Ming watches a game in Shang­hai dur­ing last year’s NCAA China Tour.

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