From Zero Medals In 1952 To Top Performer In Recent Olympics: The Turnaround in The Olympics Performance Of China
As the Olympics gets underway in Rio, we cannot help but notice the consistent performance of China even this time. Since last three Olympics, China has been regularly securing second rank in overall medals, except the Beijing Olympics of 2008 when it secured the first rank with a whopping 100 medals. Contrast this with the 1952 Olympics where the Chinese contingent arrived late for the Games and only one athlete managed to participate. Even that athlete could not win any medal. It is intriguing how China managed such a massive turnaround in 50 years, and the story has some lessons for India as well.
1. Government support:
China follows a top-down model for sports which is built with the sole purpose of winning medals at Olympics. They have set up around 5000 sports schools at the base level where athletes train and get the best coaching expertise from around the world. Better athletes then enter the province training centres and finally the best of them end up in Olympics centres. At each level, athletes get all facilities from equipment to proper diet and lifestyle. They also get hefty rewards on good performance, with Olympics champions getting high prize money, a house and a high-level government job upon retirement.
A great deal of decision-making power is vested in coaches, who can choose the athletes they want to train, in a way they know is right. They have unlimited access to all the training facilities like gymnasiums and pools, and can get additional equipments procured easily without having to go through any red-tapes or NOCs. The coaches are salaried and receive bonuses for performance.
Chinese sportspersons are masters of technique and repeated rigour of moves. They are trained heavily in one skill until they perfect it. Some athletes who are good at gymnastics, a skill which is already known by many Chinese players, are turned to other sports like snow-boarding, aerial skiing and diving, which gives them the advantage of a unique skill (gymnastics) which may not be possessed by players of other countries. That is why China destroys all competition in sports like table-tennis, badminton, gymnastics, and diving. As a matter of fact, China has won all golds four times in table tennis and one time in badminton, and has won three-quarters of all diving golds since 1992, all thanks to an incredibly focussed training pedagogy.
3. Culture of Sports:
There has been some consideration to build a culture of sports and fitness among the general public as well. In 1995, the “Physical Health Law of the People’s Republic of China” was adopted which outlined rules and regulations to improve the health and overall physical condition of the masses. Around 620,000 gymnasiums and stadiums were built across China, open to and widely used by the public. The Nationwide Physical Fitness Program, with an emphasis on young adults and children, encouraged everyone to engage in at least one sporting activity every day, learn at least two ways of keeping fit and have a health examination every year. This has not only widened the pool of potential athletes for the country, but also created awareness about sports among people, who now consider it as a great career option.
4. Individual effort:
Apart from such extensive support from the government and the society, it is an athlete’s personal quest for excellence and glory which motivates him/her to work hard. Chinese athletes are known to train extremely hard, and are admired for their dedication and endurance. For team sports, they train together for almost an year before the Olympic event, whereas other countries start their team trainings only months before. Chinese athletes are also driven by the passion to perform for their national pride, and they see their Olympics performance as an indication of their world domination.
Can India do it as well?
One of the things which India can learn from the Chinese turnaround is focus. It can attempt to build a similar top-down model where focussed decisions are taken and specific targets are set. Although it is currently difficult for India to build sports infrastructure of the scale of China, considering the lower availability of funds and focus on other high-priority areas like roads and housing, still we can utilize the present infrastructure to train athletes in a focussed manner.
We also need to desperately cut on red-tapism and widespread corruption in Sports Authorities, so that whatever money is released by the government, reaches to the athletes and helps them in their training and well-being. Devolution of power to coaches at the micro-level is also essential.
Finally we, the people, need to develop a culture of sports and fitness. Again, since the government may not be presently able to provide us all the facilities, we can endeavour to keep ourselves acquainted with atleast one sport. The companies can play a major role in funding sports activities and tournaments as part of their CSR. It’s time we start seeing sports as a career option and encourage children to participate in sports events.
The Logical Indian admires the impressive performance of China at the ongoing Olympics and wishes the Indian contingent all the best for the remaining games. We also wish that India takes some cues from its neighbour to improve its performance in the future.
– Abhishek Mittal