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China's Champion Lost in a Bathhouse
Before the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing needs to change its training system
Xu Zhiqiang (xuzhiqiang)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-11 16:09 (KST)   
Zou Chunlan couldn't expect she would become a masseuse someday when she was selected as a weight lifter by the Jilin province sports team at 14 in 1985.

"My waist and heart often hurt," the 35-year-old Zou Chunlan says. She has worked as a masseuse in a public bathhouse for four years and massages 10 to 20 backs a day. Besides the pain in her body, the spiritual distress is harder to bear, especially when she counts her 14 medals, which she won when she was younger.

Zou Chunlan
©2006 BJ News
Zou once was a professional lifter and won the national women's weight lifting champion before 1990. Among the 14 medals, four are gold which represent the times she broke the Chinese women's record and the one time she broke the world record.

The medals have brought honor to Zou, but she can't get a decent job to make a living. Because of the many body pains she received in training, she retired from the team in 1993 and became a waitress in the team's cafeteria two years later.

After the 75,000 Yuan (US$9,400) one-off compensation for her injuries, she was laid off completely by the team in 2000. Then her life plunged into disarray.

Zou couldn't find any appropriate job in the labor market due to her lack of skills. She walked into the sports team at 14 and was trained in nothing but weight lifting. As a result, her educational level only equals a third grade pupil.

The worst development occurred when she noticed a beard appearing on her face and when her voice began to sound more like a man. She had to take estrogen to restrain the horrible variations.

"I'd rather be an ordinary person than a champion," Zou says. She recalled the real reason the male characteristics appeared. During her training days, her coach often provided "Dali Wan" (translates as "a dose of power and strength"), for her to eat. Along with her soaring scores in many competitions, the "Dali Wan" became the root of her power.

Until now, the symptoms are still occurring. Zou had to face and cure it with only 600 yuan ($75) a month she receives as a masseuse. The money also covers all her life expenses.

Last year, she moved to Changchun, the capital of Jilin, which abuts the Korean peninsula, from her hometown with her husband. "Here I can massage more customers," Zou says. When she can't bear the hunger and her regular meal of cabbage, she fries two eggs.

Zou is just one example of the hundreds of thousands of such players retired from the "All for Honor" training system. According to Southern Weekend, a popular newspaper in China, since 1949 the retired players amount to 279,000. In Huan and seven other provinces, the jobless ratio of retired players is near 30 percent of the total number, and in one western province it is even 70 percent. Although not all of them followed Zou's hard life, many of them sacrificed a lot for national, provincial and even municipal honors.

After they were selected, their sole aim was to win at all costs. This training system turned them into a sport's tool, not a lively boy or girl. Their education was neglected and some of them even used medicine like Zou.

The sports system produced many champions for China in the Olympics Games and world tournaments. They became heroes of the country and got corresponding wealth and applause easily. While on the other side, the majority of non-champion players had to face the pains and pressures alone.

Three years ago, Li Cai, a former male weight lifting champion, died from adiposity. Liu Fei, a former women's triathlon champion, can't afford her daily expenses many years after her departure from the sports team.

The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games is approaching. At such a delicate time combined with such stories, Zou's problem has raised a heated debate among China's media and internet community about the existing training system. Many netizens express that they want to give her a hand. Last weekend, Zou received washing machines valued at 100,000 yuan ($12,500) from one netizen.

Deng Yaping, a former Ping-Pong champion, now a member of a political consultative committee, said that all sports players should get nine years compulsory education.

"We won't forget those players who have contributed a lot to our nation," a Deputy Chief Director of the State Physical Cultural Administration said on March 31. But at a news conference on the same day held by the Jilin sports team, the cause of Zou's symptoms was still not openly disclosed.

"Will my life become better after so many people have heard of me?" Zou wonders. "If I have babies in the future, I won't let them follow my path."
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Xu Zhiqiang

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