Rick Eglinton/The Cannadian Press
Wei Zheng/ For China Daily
Chu Cancan/for China Daily
NEW YORK - Nine Chinese Olympians are set to begin a semester of studies at arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, funded jointly by the university and the Chinese government.
Gold medalist swimmer Luo Xuejuan, silver medalist gymnast Sui Jianshuang and bronze medalist curler Wang Bingyu are among the group who arrived on Friday.
"As an active athlete, I want to know more about American athletes," Wang said.
The athletes will attend specially designed not-for-credit courses in a curriculum labeled the Chinese Champions program.
They will study coaching, sports management and administration to prepare for post-competition careers in China, said organizer Li Li Ji, who is professor of kinesiology at the university.
They will also study US history and participate in some teaching, Ji said.
"I believe that the main thing they will take away from this experience is the strength of the American sports system, which couples recreation and business," he said.
"The American model is unique, and China is seeking to making sports a major part of their national initiatives, both to improve quality of life but also as a business model."
The athletes, who live in graduate dorms, will interact with the sports community and general campus.
Most of them have retired but expect to remain in sports management or administration, Ji said. Two of them, Lu Xiudong and Xie Yong, now coach taekwondo and weightlifting respectively.
"Many of the rest of the group will also go on to coach," Ji said.
"A few may also be interested in private business, as China has quite a lot of sports business now.
"For the government, these athletes are in many ways an investment."
Each athlete's focus will be determined by a combination of personal interest and government demand, Ji said.
Luo said she has always been interested in sports, but that each athlete has varying additional interests.
Ji began thinking about the idea for the program in 2008, when he led a delegation to China to visit the Beijing Sport University (BSU).
Last year, a BSU delegation visited the Big 10 sports schools in the US before choosing UW-Madison.
Initially, organizers were uncertain how the program would be funded, but UW-Madison agreed to waive tuition fees if the Chinese government would pay for living expenses and flights to the US.
In March, the organizers visited China and invited the athletes on national television. Soon after, China's National Scholarship Council offered funds for the program.
Scholarships are usually only offered to applicants after a rigorous testing system that rewards top students, but in this case the council agreed to make an exception.
In addition to two months of intensive English-language study in Beijing, the athletes will spend three hours a day studying English.
"Most of these athletes have been heavily engaged in competition," Ji said. "They have not focused on education up until now."
For Wang, the language barrier will be her first challenge. "Having courses taught in English helps us learn the language faster," she said.
Luo also cited language as the main obstacle, but like the rest of the group is looking forward to her time in the US. She hopes to visit other US cities, and the group plans to attend a baseball game in Milwaukee.
They may also meet professional American athletes, Ji said.
"I want to see more and learn more," Luo said. "And I hope to keep in good form."
More elite athletes to study abroad
Beijing Sport University is planning to send more champion students to study abroad, following the setting up of a special program for retired stars in 2003, Chinese media reports say.
While sending graduate students to study for PhDs in the United States, the university also intends to help former top athletes to become first-class talents in their future careers. Only world champions and gold, silver and bronze medallists are admitted to the program.
At present, the China Scholarship Council has agreed to fund 20 students of the program to study abroad.
Among them is Li Na, the Olympic diving gold medallist, who has left for an eight-month project at Leeds University in the UK.
Nine athletes have started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while four others will leave for Indiana University next month. Another six have applied for other universities.
The students will not have to pay for their overseas studies, Chinese media reports say. While foreign universities will waive tuition fees, the council will pay for living costs and round-trip tickets.
Those who study in the US will receive a monthly stipend of $1,100.
- China Daily