Training or terror? China's state sports system turning kids into factory products

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Apr 14, 2021, 11:45 PM(IST)

Representative image Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

They are training for glory -- under the Chinese flag. Most of these children are just  sx years old.

China's  Li Xiao-Shuang gymnastics school has resorted to ruthless torture in the name of hard training to help kids become the country's champion. 

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Kids from disturbingly low average age are the latest recruits of Li Xiao-Shuang gymnastics school, the cradle of China's elite gymnasts.

They are training for glory -- under the Chinese flag. Most of these children are just six years old.

They can bend like pretzels, they can hang from bars, they can do headstands for several minutes and sometimes they get emotional.

Despite the tough nature of these drills, officials at the gymnasium say the current methods are way more relaxed than before.

Liu Fen, deputy headmaster of Li Xiao-Shuang gymnastics school said: "We are more relaxed now. In the past, we certainly hoped to produce lots of champions, but now society and the people's minds are changing, so our training mode is also changing. If you always follow the old training mode to teach, it won't work."

The young gymnasts here pause only to take sips from their water bottle or to review their performance from tablets. 

If they are not up to the mark, they bow to their coaches in apology and if their performance is below average, they are punished with extra weight training.

But their parents claim the children hardly ever complain. One of the children's parents said: "My daughter hardly complains about feeling tired of practising gymnastics at school. She thinks the training is fine. Sometimes I worry about her, but I never show it on my face. I just cheer her on."

At the end of their long day of training, the children are given meals, which predominantly have clean protein and healthy carbs. Cheat meals are strictly prohibited. 

Everybody is training to be a champion even though some do not understand the meaning of the word.

Di Xiyun, one of the students in the gymnastics school said: "I want to be the world runner-up. I feel that I'm practising quite well so I want to work as hard as I can to be the runner-up. The champion is also good."

Upon asking the question about the words 'runner-up' and 'champion' she replied: "I don't know what first place is called so i just randomly said one."

This gymnasium is just one of the hundreds of intense sports boarding schools across China where thousands of children train for years in the hopes of bringing money and honour to their families. 

The majority don't make the grade  and their dream dies early for those who remain -- the pressure to win is intense.

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