Yao Ming makes a big impression at Youth Olympic Village
Updated: 2014-08-26 12:03
NANJING, China - Jaws dropped when Yao Ming strolled across the main square of the Youth Olympic Village on Monday. The youth Olympians could not stop staring at the towering basketball legend, one of the best-known sportsmen in China.
A young footballer from Iceland scrambled up alongside Yao and extended his arm into the air to see if it reached higher than the 2.26m tall Yao.
It did not. "He is so big... just huge," said Kristofer Ingi Kristinsson of Iceland as he took a picture of his teammate with Yao.
Paola Acevedo also stood up close to Yao and was almost speechless. "He is so tall," was all the Puerto Rican judoka could say.
Yao has an idea what the young athletes are experiencing at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
He represented China at three Olympic Games - Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. He was China's flag bearer in 2004 and 2008, and carried the Olympic torch in Tiananmen Square before his home Games.
"These games are important, not only to educate the youth about competition, but for them to feel the Games, feel the Olympic spirit," Yao said. "Hopefully these Games will make people more mature after their experiences here.
"I remember my first Olympic Games and it was a big shock for me. I was stunned by how many cultures there were, and sometimes it felt like I was in an alien world.
"But today, the world has become smaller and smaller. You can get in touch with a friend on the other side of the world in a totally opposite time zone.
"I took a walk in the Village today and I saw so many young athletes taking pictures, learning lessons in the World Culture Village. Even with my experience, I still felt like a child when I saw those things."
Yao visited the Youth Olympic Village as an Athlete Role Model, and he sees a bright future for the competitors in Nanjing.
"I believe that after those young athletes finish these Games, they can become just like us [elite athletes] and one day people will follow them and treat them like role models too," Yao said.
"There are 3,800 athletes here and they are the future of this sport. I also believe there are many more out there who are not here and the sports family is much larger than this village."
At the Village, Yao joined a healthy cooking class and took his turn making lamb skewers with couscous.
Yao was one of the first international players to make an impact in the NBA, playing for the Houston Rockets from 2002 to 2011, and his appearance at the Village caused quite a stir.
"We know him well in America," said Josh Levin, an American sport climber who performed at the Nanjing 2014 Sports Lab. "It is very cool to see him here at the Youth Games."