BEIJING: In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, anticipation is running high over how many medals China can garner in the Games and the sense of excitement is felt strongly in sports schools across the country.
12-year-old Jiang Qifan is looking forward to the Olympics in August, not just because the Games are being held in her own backyard, but because it will give her a sneak preview of what she can expect in the not-so-distant future.
Jiang, who is a table-tennis student, said: “I can’t wait to see my favourite Olympic stars like Wang Liqin and Wang Hao in action. I especially like their distinctive playing styles.”
Like most of the students – aged between six and 20 – in Beijing’s Shichahai Sports School, Jiang has big dreams. She wants to be a national and world champion in her sport.
Labelled as the best in their respective provinces, many of these sports students are groomed to be the next generation of Olympic athletes.
Ranked as one of the top three sports schools in China, Shichahai has produced over 30 Olympics and world champions, including world number one table women’s tennis player, Zhang Yining, and renowned gymnast and Hollywood actor, Jet Li.
Shi Fenghua, vice-principal of Beijing Shichahai Sports School, said: “As a national-level school, we recruit from all over the country, through local and regional competitions held in provinces.”
Students at Shichahai follow a strict schedule and have to endure hours of repetitive training. They have little time for recreational activities and whatever leisure time they have is spent on honing their skills.
Zhang Rui, a badminton student, said: “We record international competitions and watch them when we have the time.”
Yet the harsh reality of competitive sports usually means that over half of the students will have to give up their dreams eventually. For those who do not make a name for themselves in the sports arena, a common alternative seems to be a career in fitness.
But even for those who shift to other careers, many said the discipline that they have acquired in sports schools have put them in good stead for their future career.
In the meantime, what keeps these students going is the dream of representing their country, winning medals, and most of all, becoming China’s next Olympic star.
Channel News Asia