Source:Xinhua Published: 2012-11-20 10:35:29
Beijing middle school student Zhang Yanan was filled with pride when China demonstrated its athletic prowess with 38 golds at the London Olympic Games.
Away from the screen, however, the 15-year-old found her love for sports being cold shouldered.
A member of a marathon club at Tongwen Middle School in western Beijing, Zhang runs an average six miles a day. But daily training has become a source of strain as she struggles with her amount of schoolwork.
"Very often I need to defend my time slot in training to show my parents, who insist I need to spend more time cramming for tests," said Zhang.
Zhang Fanglu, founder and the only coach at the club, said he, too, feels growing pressure from parents and school teachers.
Zhang, a retired track athlete and coach, set up the club in 2003 to offer free training for primary and middle school students. The children train every day and have only four days off during the traditional Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.
On weekdays, the children join him on the school's sports ground at 6 a.m. for an hour-long session and again at 4:30 p.m. for two hours. On weekends and holidays, their training would last for six hours a day.
While the fastest runners are hoping to become professional athletes and compete in major national and international events, others expect to get some preferential treatment when going on to high school and college.
"But their teachers often complain I have taken too much of their time and parents insist on sending their children to better schools, away from my training base," said Zhang.
Plights of Zhang's sports club are common in Chinese schools that, despite renewed calls to promote students' all-round development, tend to sideline sports activities in favor of spoonfeeding children with knowledge.
Schools and colleges in several cities have removed long-distance running -- a traditional winter event -- from campus sports meets this year over students' health concerns.
An official with Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, said they canceled women's 3,000 meters and men's 5,000 meters, as the races might be "risky" for students, whose health conditions could "hardly allow such laborious sports".
Schools that keep long-distance running events have reportedly imposed stricter pre-game health checks with medical staff standing by in case of emergencies.
The moves come amid sudden deaths involving adolescents in marathon training or races, prompting concerns over their declining physique.
Health statistics have shown the youngsters' health is unsatisfactory. A 2010 health report indicated college students aged from 19 to 22 were found to be slower and weaker, and the situation was worse in cities.
In comparison with data collected in 2005, scores in men's 1,000 meters fell by 3.37 and 3.09 seconds for urban and rural students, while breathing capacity of college students as a general dropped by nearly 10 percent from the 1985 level. STUNTED EDUCATION
Educators said China's exam-based education system is partially to blame for the students' declining health situation. Excessive emphasis on learning and academic performance have come at the expense of children's playtime and sports activities.
"Schools and parents pay very little attention to sports, and it is quite common for our classes to be taken for other use," said a sports teacher at a senior high school in Hubei Province.
Many schools have taken a pragmatic attitude toward sports classes, asking teachers to focus only on the few mandatory events where test scores are a major reference in high school admission exams, such as long jump, basketball shots and medicine ball.
Sports classes at most Chinese schools, therefore, have deviated from their goals of cultivating children's love for sports.
Wang Feng, a 25-year-old office worker in Shanghai, found it difficult to take up any sports in college, having spent her primary and middle school years basically in the classroom.
"Though I had more spare time in college, I didn't know what sports I liked, nor was I taught properly where to start," Wang said.
In October, China's State Council issued a circular demanding measures to ensure an hour a day of sport for primary and middle school students. The circular also avowed more government spending to ensure schools have better physical education teachers.
But Coach Zhang Fanglu still sees many obstacles beyond the power of educational authorities.
"Most students are the delicate only child in the family, and schools are under pressures to protect them from injuries -- that's why schools lack initiatives to arrange schoolyard sports and scrapped tough events like the marathon," Zhang said.
"But if this trend continues, maybe someday we need to ban walking, if our children become too weak to walk," he said.