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Firm foundations facilitate fruitful futures

By ZHAO YIMENG | China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-14 09:41
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Yang Yang speaks at the fifth World Conference on Doping in Sport in Katowice, Poland, Nov 7, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

Yang Yang, China's first champion in the Winter Olympic Games, has had many roles since she retired from the sporting arena.

The 45-year-old was a member of the International Olympic Committee for eight years. At present, she is vice-president of the World Anti-Doping Agency and a leading member of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

The short-track speedskating Olympic champion made a successful move from the world of sports to regular life, but she fully understands the difficulties of transition, especially for those who didn't win Olympic medals.

"The first step is to adopt an appropriate attitude to adapt to the world outside the training course," she said in an interview with People's Daily last year.

In 2011, Yang founded the China Champions Foundation, an NGO that provides free career guidance for retired athletes. Though affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, it continues to provide online training sessions for athletes at all levels, irrespective of their achievements or standard of competition.

"Compared with the last generation, today's athletes are more eager to find their own way in society after retirement, and their awareness of active learning is rising," Yang said.

The athletes' fighting spirit and their ability to execute a plan of action and resist pressure are valuable qualities in the workplace, while their lack of cultural knowledge and skills in new areas can be improved by education.

So far, the foundation has helped more than 5,000 athletes. As the market for teenage sports training is burgeoning, it has also developed physical and fitness training regimes for children, including courses to hone sporting skills and others related to mental health, nutrition and prevention of injury.

"Athletes have become more and more open-minded, so we can prearrange their training and guidance. Courses about career planning should be introduced before retirement to pave the way for their future development," Yang said.

The foundation's courses related to time management, sports science and "mental accommodation" complement the athletes' regular training and competitions.

Yang said relevant government departments-such as those involved with education, sports and social organizations-and NGOs should cooperate to ease the transitions of retired athletes in terms of providing job opportunities, training and resources.

While Yang was changing the history of China's Winter Olympic Games in the women's 500m short track in 2002, Huang Yaling had just joined the official Ningde sports team in Fujian province and started lifting weights.

Now the owner of several restaurants, Huang shared her entrepreneurial experience at a training event held by the foundation.

In 2004, Huang changed her focus to wrestling and was selected for the Fujian Provincial Sports Team. At the same time, she started a business selling socks near her sports school in the evenings after weekend training sessions. Later, she moved her small enterprise into the school.

As the training regime became more and more intensive, she gave up the small business, but the experience had given her a rough idea of what she would do after retiring from the ring.

"I knew I wouldn't be wrestling for my whole life, so I had to try my best to win a championship in my prime," she said.

At age 17, she achieved her goal at the National Junior Championships. However, health problems halted her plans to fight for another title.

When Huang signed a retirement contract in 2012, she already had a plan-she had decided she would use her retirement payment to open a wedding planning institute.

"We (athletes) are supposed to have the courage to return to zero after stepping down from the podium," she said.

She added that former stars should forget their achievements and pride in their sporting career while learning new skills.

"I always follow my heart and walk out my comfort zone to explore more opportunities in life," she said.

Later, she changed her business focus again, opening several restaurants in Fuzhou, Fujian's capital, that feature Japanese food and Chinese wedding culture.

The outlets feature six retired schoolmates, who majored in sanshou (Chinese boxing), weightlifting and wrestling.

"I appreciate all their hardworking qualities. They are not my employees, however-they are my co-workers in my startup," Huang said.

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