Saturday, March 1, 2008

National Sports Academies

Country number one has 5000+ sports academies with the personal responsibility of nurturing the Olympic dreams of over 6 million school-age children from the start of their 4th birthday. Country number two holds national try-outs for their Olympic teams 6-8 months before the opening ceremonies. The first country destines every child that goes through it's system to a berth on an Olympic team or professional sports career and considers any that fail to reach this point, a disappointment to the system, themself and their country. The second country considers high school and college breakout athletes as the becoming of a future super star, and outstanding professionals in the same esteem as national heroes.

One country won a total of 102 medals at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, the second, only 63.

Which one is which?

The United States is the second country with 102 medals the past Olympics and China is the first country. Surprised?

So the initial impression is that the Chinese, government sponsored and facilitated sports training philosophy is a largely unsuccessful gamble. This is on top of the gamble a parent has to make by sending their only child (China has a one-child policy for population control), off to a sports academy at the age of 4, facing the prospect of potential abuse until they reach legal age, all in the name of their son or daughter possibly becoming the next Yao Ming or Liu Xiang. But before you make a few premature conclusions, let's hop in the De Lorean...

Chinese Medal totals beginning with 1984:

Year Host city Gold Silver Bronze Total

1984 Los Angeles 15 8 9 32

1988 Seoul 5 11 12 28

1992 Barcelona 16 22 16 54

1996 Atlanta 16 22 12 50

2000 Sydney 28 16 15 59

2004 Athens 32 17 14 63

Source: International Olympic Committee

They must be doing something right....

And now in 2008, native turf, 1.5 billion home fans, could this be China's breakout year?

This is all in stark contrast to American Olympic prospects. Taken to hockey or soccer practice by mom's minivan from early childhood to late adolescence, become accepted to a renowned university program (all the while, academics still being the main emphasis), become a team and conference standout, nurture the hopes of getting drafted by a professional team and try to catch the eye of the Olympic team recruiter. All of this, receiving only meager compensation while training for the Olympic team. Potential Chinese Olympic athletes are identified not long after they turn 4 while American athletes are left to care, train and fend for themselves until they're considered worthy of an Olympic coach's attention.

So the while the Olympic games this summer are seen by many as a non-political statement of China's newfound economic and industrial strength among the world's superpowers... many others that are more interested in the potential emergence of China in the sports world than its politics, see this August as a grand audition for the nation's athletes on the world's biggest stage.

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