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Swimmers from China, pictured at the Aquatics Centre at London 2012, have an unrelenting appetite for hard work. Photograph: Matt Slocum/AP|
Although not head coach, I am in the Olympic Village with the Chinese team. I must say, taking aside the performances for a moment, the vast majority of comments on this (and many other sites I am sure) are riddled with inaccuracies and speculation.
I am certainly not aware of any talent ID programme – I am coaching five swimmers on this Olympic team and three of them I selected myself when they were 13 years old. No one "advised" or told me who to select – I just used my experience and "trained eye" to spot the guys I thought would be good.
Chinese athletes train incredibly hard, harder than I can explain in words and as a coach who has placed swimmers on five different Olympic Games teams, I have never seen athletes train like this anywhere in the world.
They have an unrelenting appetite for hard work, can (and will) endure more pain for longer than their western counterparts, will guarantee to turn up for practice every single time and give their all. They are very proud of their country, they are proud to represent China and have a very team focused mentality.
Let's also not forget that this is their only avenue for income; most do not study and sport offers them a way out or a way up from where they and their families currently live in society. If their swimming fails, they fail and the family loses face.
This is not an attitude shared by athletes in the west, who – generally speaking – come from comfortable homes with average incomes, one or two cars per family and four weeks or more paid holidays per year. Your average Chinese family does not live this way.
I could list countless other differences, but the main point is that these are professional athletes, salaried to train and perform – much in the same way Premier League footballers are paid to perform in England, except they train way harder and way longer than these footballers for far less financial reward.
Many people here are asking me why I have lived in China for seven years – three simple reasons:
1 Facilities: I have access to both 50m and 25m pools in the same building 24 hours per day seven days per week – there are no NOPs, EOPs, red tape managers, lifeguards, public swim etc getting in the way of my training.
2 Athletes: unlike in the UK (where I worked in both a top university and high performance centre) I am able to select any athlete I wish, coach them how I want to, when I want to for as long as I want to. These athletes give me their total attention, time and effort every day.
3 Funding: my athletes are salaried and receive bonuses for performance; I am salaried and receive bonuses for performance. We all want performance, not mediocrity, not sport for all, but gold medals – and they are not afraid to say this. If I want a foreign training camp, money is available; if I want high-altitude training – money is available; if I want an assistant coach – money is available; if I want some new gadgets or training equipment, guess what? Money is available.
For these, and countless other reasons I am very happy I moved to China; it is the future both financially and in terms of sporting ambition. I am proud to be British, but for myself as a coach, I want to be in a position where I can maximise my ability and realise my potential in my field of employment.
I hope this brief explanation helps to inform the vast majority of the British public out there, who had no idea such vast differences existed. A former well‑known colleague of mine once said we need to be out of our comfort zone more often.
Well, Chinese athletes do not have a comfort zone; life here is challenging and often uncomfortable and they are now prospering because of it. There will always be "rogue" individuals in many countries who turn to "the dark side" for assistance in training, and many countries have a history of such practices, but people must realise how far these athletes push themselves every day, how much they sacrifice in terms of living away from home, with reduced education opportunities. Simply put, they want it more than everyone else.
Enjoy the rest of the Games and "Jia You".(Guardian)