Medals obscure cost of China's state-run sports regime

LONDON - China's massive medal haul at the London Games has once again showcased the country's ability to produce champions through its rigid Soviet-style sports regime, but national pride has been tempered by concerns about the human costs of sporting glory.

Chinese bloggers expressed their disgust last week after a Shanghai newspaper reported that the parents of Olympic diver Wu Minxia had concealed her mother's long battle with breast cancer for fear of disturbing her training.

Wu, 26, who was also shielded from news of her grandparents' deaths, shrugged off the controversy to win both the sychronised and individual three-metre springboard events in London.

"It's not only Chinese athletes who are like this. Parents seldom come to our training base and we are just like a big family who all train together," Wu said after winning the individual title on Sunday.

"There may be distance from our families but the distance doesn't make us feel we are far apart. I chose to be a diver to pursue this goal."

While the fall of Communism in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s put paid to the command-and-control systems that turned the Soviet Union and East Germany into sporting superpowers, China's "juguo tizhi" - literally 'whole nation system' - remains as entrenched as ever.

Like Wu, the greater majority of China's 396 Olympians have started their sports at tender ages, sacrificed their childhoods for the state and drawn their emotional support from team mates, coaches and officials, in lieu of family members and friends.

The relationship remains strong between the athletes and the state that nurtured them, and fairytale stories abound of Chinese children wrenched from poverty and enriched by success on the global stage.

But the Olympic medals have obscured the more unsavoury aspects of the sports regime, which has been blamed for leaving less successful athletes uneducated and ill-equipped to thrive outside the competition venues.

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