When it comes to gymnastics, there’s no denying that China has some of the world’s best athletes. Just watch major international competitions and you’ll easily see many Chinese gymnasts excelling in the sport, walking away with medals in their respective categories.
What’s the secret behind the success, you ask? As with most things, it’s training, of course. The big difference, however, is that the Chinese start really early – and they take their training very seriously.
Susan Brownell, an anthropologist from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, had the chance to see it with her own eyes when she visited the Shanghai Yangpu Youth Amateur Athletic School, a gymnastics center located in Beijing, China.
According to her, what she witnessed startled her.
“You’ve got tiny little kids, who are basically in diapers, and it’s amazing what they can do at that age. They get bent up like pretzels when they do flexibility exercises.”
These youngsters are, of course, being trained with the ultimate aim of winning gold in the Olympics.
Moreover, a Business Insider report tells us that there are thousands of such training schools around the country and that the Chinese government has always been supportive, providing “sizable funding” so that athletes “as young as 6 who show early talents in sports like taekwando, table tennis, gymnastics, and badminton (get trained) for years in the hopes of bringing money and honor back to their families.”
So yes, most Chinese gymnasts who will compete in the 2020 Olympics have basically prepared for the competition their whole lives and a big percentage of them come from poor families who see the sport as a solution for their poverty.
As Brownell pointed out, emerging victorious in early Olympic trials earns the athletes and their families the opportunity to live in the cities.
“Parents that were college-educated don’t tend to support their children getting tracked into sports because in these sports boarding schools the education is not very good.
“They basically eat, train, and are supposed to go to class, but don’t always. The vast majority of them are doing it for pragmatic reasons, which is to get a better life for themselves and their family.”
The harsh reality, of course, is that many gymnasts will not win or let alone make it to Olympic medalists.
Still, the tradition and the system will, for the most part, stay the same. “That’s what it was designed to do,” as Brownell summed it up, “to produce medals.”
Watch the video below to see how intense trainings can be for young gymnasts in China:
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