In the wake of the age controversy with the Chinese gymnasts, Yang Yilin’s statements to the press after winning the all-around bronze last night paint one of the worst pictures yet of Chinese training and social life of the national team.
An opinionated column from the Associated Press:
Unlike [Shawn] Johnson, who arrived later, obviously delighted with her medal, Yang displayed little outward emotion. She smiled obediently, all small teeth, when reporters asked her to pose for photos. Her little mouth pursed again when the lenses were turned away.
Perhaps Yang is shy by nature. But, really, she just seems to have been sheltered by the Chinese coaches who direct her life.
“For the drug test,” coach Liu Qunlin said, passing Yang a bottle of water so she would be able to provide a sample for the dope-testers.
Then, a little hesitantly, Yang started to answer the questions. And the more she said, the more shocking it was. The answers were brief, spoken without heart. What emerged was a picture of a young girl who has been kept largely cut off from family and the outside world for more than a year, so she could be intensely trained to win medals for China at its own Olympics.
Were your parents here to see you compete, among the cheering crowds?
“I don’t know.”
When was the last time you went home?”
“Ummm … before I joined the national team,” Yang said, her small voice hard to hear.
When was that?
“More than a year ago.”
Will you go on holiday after the games?
“I don’t know.”
How many holidays do you get a year?
“I have not had a holiday since I joined the national team.”
This from a girl who won a gold medal two nights ago and a bronze — tying the best China’s ever done — in the all-around.
Granted, there are documented occasions when the Chinese team obviously does have fun. Youtube Chinese New Year’s celebrations involve members of the national team dressing in drag and doing all sorts of silly skits. It’s kids being kids, like it should be.
2007 Chinese New Year Pig Skit:
At the same time, there are obvious ethical questions (among westerners, anyway) about whether subjecting girls/young women to such rigorous training, taking them away from their homes, giving them limited schooling, etc, etc.
Hopefully as an Olympic gold and bronze medalist (and possibly more — she’s got a good shot of getting another medal in the uneven bars final), Yang’s government will treat her and her family a little better. Liu Xuan and Ling Jie went to University after winning their medals in Sydney. Zhang Nan was gifted a house after her all-around bronze in Athens. All except Liu, already a two-time Olympian at age 21, chose to continue competing.
Did they choose? If Yang Yilin wanted to leave the national team, would it really be her decision?
When questions turned to what Yang might like to do after sports, the coach interjected.
“It’s too soon,” she said. “She hasn’t done enough gymnastics yet.”
Then, after a few final questions, the curtain closed again.
“Let her rest a little,” the coach said, cutting the moment short.
And to Yang: “Drink some water.”