Olympic dreams - Made in China

March 21st, 2008 - 12:16 pm ICT by admin  

Beijing, March 21 (DPA) The Beijing Games in August will come too early for most of them, but Chinese sports talents are getting ready for future Olympic glory. The atmosphere in the Shichahai Sports School is one of full concentration. Not even eight-year-old children in the gymnastics hall flinch or giggle when a large group of visitors from Hong Kong or a smaller group of international media toured the famous facility in the heart of Beijing Thursday.

“They are living their dream,” says gymnastics coach Zhao Gengbo in a brief break.

The dream is in fact a road of hardship, training and education as well.

“It is a long and hard road, it could take up to 17 years for boys and 12 years for girls to reach the Olympic level,” says Zhao.

Founded in 1958, Shichahai has played an important role in China’s rise to an global sports power - providing a series of world and Olympic champions in sports ranging from gymnastics and table tennis to volleyball and taekwondo.

Director Li Guicheng acknowledges that the entry criteria are extremely tough to become one of the 650 athletes chosen to train in Shichahai, ranging from a technical test in the sport to physical strength and a medical test.

Only 20 percent of those chosen will become top athletes who are allowed to train for free. Others, including foreigners, have to pay $10,000 per year to train in the centre.

But Shichahai is more than training, which in fact only takes place for three hours in the afternoon five days a week. The girls and boys go to school in the morning - primary school outside the facility, middle school at Shichahai.

“The education concept is important. It is our aim to be at the top in China and the world,” says Zhao.

Li estimates that around 10 athletes from Shichahai will be among the 500-strong Chinese team for the Aug 8-24 Olympics in Beijing.

But it could also provide the springboard for foreign athletes in their quest for Olympic glory, now that China has opened up.

This week two German 12-year-olds, Simone Kuhlmann and Emily Pachal, joined the local talent in the gymnastics hall for 10 days under the Chinese flag.

“It is fascinating. We were welcomed with open arms and the Chinese were very helpful,” says their coach Alexander Naum.

Kuhlmann has already made it into the junior national team. The trip to Beijing - arranged by their training-camp city of Dusseldorf and the Sino-German Society - could set the tone as she hopes to make it to the 2012 Olympics in London.

“That would be great,” says Kuhlmann, sitting a little shy near the exit of the hall.

Naum and his athletes are impressed how hard the Chinese train, while Zhao is full of praise for the foreign visitors he communicates with by gestures.

“They are good, they have a good level, and we can also learn from their training methods,” he says.

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