China’s no stranger to overly ambitious parents. But how young is too young to start training your future Olympian child? One father’s lofty dream for his daughter has stirred outrage, even in the nation that has entire schools devoted to Olympic training.
Sun Xuguang, a 34-year-old retired gymnast, went to one such school in the 1980s. After a two-decade career as a state champion, he failed to find a job and currently lives with his wife and young daughter off of his mother’s meager state pension, he told Forbes in a story on former athletes last month. Sun, from the coastal province of Shandong, just north of China’s largest city of Shanghai, is determined to help his daughter win an Olympic medal. It’s hardly any concern that she won’t be able to legally compete until at least 2028. That’s because Sun’s daughter is just one year old.
Earlier this month Sun shared with talk show Studio No.1 the exercise routine he’s created for his daughter, in hopes that she can be fit — and inspired — to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics one day.
The television program showed the little girl carrying a 2-liter soda bottle, brimming with water, as she waddled toward her father. According to a Chinese-language newspaper, Bandao, other exercises in Sun’s carefully-crafted training include lifting a badminton racket, raising beer cans and hoisting a milk powder can that weighs nearly 4.5 lbs (2 kilograms). He insisted on the talk show that his daughter simply saw the exercise as playing games.
“My daughter is happy,” Sun said. “When I hand her a little dumbbell, she cries out of joy.”
He’s even laid out a detailed and rigorous plan for his future gold medalist:
“By 2, she will learn how to roll forwards and backwards. By 3, she will master cartwheels. By 4, she will attend a school specialized in gymnastics. From 6 to 8 she will play for her province. From 8 to 12 she will win first-place in various state-level contests. From 13 to 14 she will join the national team. From 16 to 18 she will grab gold at both the Asian Games and the Olympics.”
But Sun, a former national gymnastics champion who began his training at the age of 5, isn’t planning on being a coach. In fact, he’s already trying to recruit a teacher, posting a request on his Sina Weibo account, China’s equivalent of Twitter.
“Though my daughter is young in age, but she is talented in gymnastics, a rare protégé you won’t find in 100 years,” he wrote in his post. Since Sun is unemployed, he said he would make money out of selling his blood to pay for his daughter’s training. “I’m willing to sell my blood to help my daughter find an excellent coach.”
Sun’s extreme ambition to inspire his daughter has attracted criticism, even among China’s notoriously hard driving parents. Readers on Weibo have called him “selfish,” “cruel” and “abusive.”
“Your daughter is only one year old — who are you to say what her interests are?” wrote one Weibo user “yyevergreen.” “Don’t destroy your child. Winning Olympic gold medal is your dream, not your daughter’s. Leave her alone.”
According to Forbes, many Chinese athletes’ formal education ends in middle school, so that they can dedicate all their time to training. But very few of them make it to the level of international competition and the relatively luxurious life that can follow. For the rest, the unemployment rate of retired athletes is a whopping 40 percent, according to a survey by the Wuhan Evening News cited by Forbes.
Will Sun’s daughter be destined for the same fate as her father if she doesn’t win a gold medal? Or is teaching the importance of striving a good enough goal in itself? Sun explained he had a larger mission to the talk show audience: “I hope my daughter can ‘eat bitterness’ [a Chinese term that means ‘enduring hardship’], only so that she could rise above all.”