Olympic legend defends tough system

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An interesting article from Super Athletics:

Chinese distance legend Wang Junxia has defended the country's controversial training methods but admitted some coaches treated children too harshly.

Wang, who won two Olympic medals in 1996, said strict and rigorous training — which continues in the run-up to next year's Beijing Olympics — was essential for success.

"Like foreign countries, if children want to do well in a particular sport they have to train well and hard. It's the same as other countries," she told AFP in an interview on Sunday.

"Just like in daily life, if you want to become successful in anything you must overcome all challenges."

However the 34-year-old, a one-time protege of controversial coach Ma Junren, who won 5,000m gold and 10,000m silver at the Atlanta Olympics, conceded some coaches should be more "human" with the younger athletes.

"I think maybe some of those training are a bit strict. They are only children so it should incorporate some human side," she said.

"Anyway there are good coaches and there are bad coaches."

China's Soviet-style training methods came under the spotlight in 2005, when British Olympic rower Matthew Pinsent accused a Beijing gymnasium of abusing young children.

Other accounts have told how thousands of promising youngsters are conscripted into the state sports system, sometimes against their will, where they endure hours of tough training every day.

But Wang, who was selected at the age of 15, said she enjoyed her experience at government athletics schools.

"I loved training because I was always told I was the best," she said.

"I always did well in the races, so I loved the whole process." Wang also defended retired coach Ma, whose vast success was tainted by doping allegations, saying he had "good training methods."

Photos of the chain-smoking Ma riding a motorcycle as he led athletes on brutal marathon-a-day, high-altitude training sessions remain his enduring image.

"He's the strictest coach I had. He's very clever and he has a never-say-die attitude. He always has the heart and the attitude to achieve something. He always wants to be a winner," said Wang.

"He was an important man for me. I can't really say he was the best coach I had because all three of my coaches had different characteristics. But he was one of the most important people in my life."

Caterpillar fungus and turtle blood were favourite herbal concoctions handed out by the coach, whose "Ma's Army" burst onto the scene with a series of titles at the 1993 World Championships.

Wang still holds world records at 3,000m and 10,000m set that year in Beijing. After she split from Ma in 1995, he and his runners were barred from the 2000 Sydney Olympics following suspicious test results indicating team doping.

Wang also defended retired coach Ma, whose vast success was tainted by doping allegations, saying he had "good training methods."

Photos of the chain-smoking Ma riding a motorcycle as he led athletes on brutal marathon-a-day, high-altitude training sessions remain his enduring image.

"He's the strictest coach I had. He's very clever and he has a never-say-die attitude. He always has the heart and the attitude to achieve something. He always wants to be a winner," said Wang.

"He was an important man for me. I can't really say he was the best coach I had because all three of my coaches had different characteristics. But he was one of the most important people in my life."

Caterpillar fungus and turtle blood were favourite herbal concoctions handed out by the coach, whose "Ma's Army" burst onto the scene with a series of titles at the 1993 World Championships.

Wang still holds world records at 3,000m and 10,000m set that year in Beijing. After she split from Ma in 1995, he and his runners were barred from the 2000 Sydney Olympics following suspicious test results indicating team doping.

Wang was reluctant to comment on the Olympic chances of top distance runner Sun Yingjie, who is mounting a comeback after a two-year doping ban.

Sun won a court case against an athlete she accused of spiking her drink, and later hit out at savage beatings she claimed she received from coach Wang Dexian.

"My back is covered with so many cuts and bruises that I can not even take off my clothes," Sun said in October.

But Wang was optimistic champion hurdler Liu Xiang, China's biggest athlete, would handle the massive pressure by defending his Olympic title in Beijing.

"I think Liu Xiang will be able to cope with this pressure. I think he can and I hope he can," she said.

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Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
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