Insight Into the Chinese Weightlifting System
Following is a post by Rachel Crass, an American lifter who is covering the World Junior Championships going on right now. Very interesting. We all know that athletic success comes with a price. The question is....how much are you willing to sacrifice? For the Chinese lifters it apparently requires total commitment and dedicaton of one's life. Is a medal really worth it?
Yesterday, 2 Chinese lifters, CHEN Xiaoting (53 kg) and MAO Chen (62 kg) swept Day 2's podiums. As I was the only member of the press to have any weightlifting experience, I stuck with the "How do you feel about your win?" type of questions. Today, though, I pulled them aside for more of a weightlifter's interview.
In a sentence: They re-wrote everything I thought about the Chinese system.
The children are selected at young ages to go to sports schools, which we all already knew. But that's about where my (correct) knowledge stopped. At these schools, children train for general sport. A little speed, strength, agility...general sports development-type exercises and activities. Their academic schoolwork is interspliced with their training.
Between the ages of 9-10, coaches filter the athletes into specialized sports programs. Some kids are gymnasts. Others are weightlifters. Still others are divers, etc. Neither Chen nor Mao chose weightlifting. Their coach chose them, and they became weightlifters. And yesterday they became World Champions.
Each Chinese state has its own sports schools, with the best athletes from each going to live and train at the National Sports School in Beijing. It's like a mini Olympic Village, with all of the sports represented. In the U.S., we have several National-level training facilities (Colorado Springs, Chula Vista, Park City, NMU, etc). In China, they have one.
Can you imagine America's best swimmers, throwers, sprinters, weightlifters, wrestlers, cyclists, etc. living and training together 365 days a year? They aren't there for camps. They live there. Train there. Everyday. They don't go home. They are allowed to see their family once a year. They spend Christmases, New Years together....Their sporting family serves as a replacement for their biological family.
When asked what happens when they get hurt, Chen and Mao did say that they have doctors who help them recover and perform any necessary surgeries, but if you're no longer good, you are kicked out of the program. If Chen can no longer compete well, there are other 53s who can take her place.
I got very much of an "assembly line" feel from what Chen and Mao were telling me.
When pressed about what they will do after they can no longer lift, both said that they were taking education courses between training sessions. Most Chinese athletes take business courses and go into entry level corporate jobs or open their own athletic gyms when they retire.
Dating and marriage are generally not tolerated. In fact, one gets the sense that these lifters have never even entertained the idea of a relationship. I'm curious to find out how many female Chinese weightlifters go on to have children at all.
In short, I'm somewhat saddened by the news of the Chinese system. I knew it was state-sponsored and regimented, but the truth had me struggling to maintain composure when talking to these young athletes.
So far, China has won all 6 weight classes contested at these World Junior Weightlifting Championships. Perhaps now we know why.