In China, though champion athletes are very much revered, it’s already well known that retired athlete-including former champion athlete find it hard to make ends meet once they retire. Many blame it on the nation’s sports system in which these athletes are enrolled in at their young age and experienced tough and long training at the expense of their education. They are trained only to win medals and are not prepared to live when they leave the sports system. As many scandals of retired champion athletes appear in media also raised questions about the government’s duties to former athletes.
Lately 27 year-old Former gymnast champion Zhang shangwu brings the issue again under the spotlight. Zhang was found performing acrobatics in Beijing subway for money when Chengguan drove him away. And he just finished his nearly 4 year prison sentence for theft crimes.
Zhang won two gold medals in the 2001 world university games that took place in Beijing. He had a promising future ahead until he sustained the tendon injury later which prematurely ends his career. He was enrolled in one sports school in Hebei province when he was 5 years old and focused on his training since then. With little education, he worked as food delivery boy for which he earns only 50 yuan in half month. He left as he can’t stand people’s attention on him. After that, he changed a few jobs and none lasted long. He even worked in a nursing homes in Hebei.
He received 60,000 yuan at his retirement but he spent all of them before he even notice. He then started to steal in the sports school where he’s familiar with. In 2007, when he was preparing for the next theft in an Internet cafe he was caught by the police and sent for a 4 year prison sentence.
Right after the media exposure of Zhang’s story, he received many media interviews "for money" as he confessed. He even set up a microblog (twitter-like website) account and showed his bank account number for receiving donations from public, but the bank account number is deleted now. 28th July, billionaire Zhang Guangbiao offered him a job with a monthly salary of 10,000 yuan and he accepted.
But that’s not the end of the story. Unlike other retired champion athlete scandals, Zhang’s story is controversial. While most people are sympathetic with Zhang’s story, many blames Zhang should be responsible for his downfall.
Many athletes that used to train with Zhang come forward and said Zhang is telling lies. They said after Zhang won the two medals in the university games, he became very proud and constantly violated disciplines. His mother also agrees that Zhang changed a lot after the games, "When he had good performance and money, he changed." Zhang’s mother Shi Huifang said when she visited her son in Beijing, he was wearing gold necklace and associated himself with bad people in the society. One time he even fought and hurt somebody for a girl. A coach in a sports school said Zhang liked to compare with people and didn’t concentrate on training. He borrowed money from his old team mates for various excuses, but never pay back any money. Cheng Yibing, champion on still rings, wrote many entries in his weibo to "expose Zhang’s lies" and asked Zhang to "be grateful for what his coaches and his teammates had done for him" and he should "stop lying but working harder and get stronger." He said When Zhang retired, the coach recommended Zhang to a few jobs but Zhang refused them all.
Related retired champion athletes’ stories:
Cai Li, a champion weightlifter at the 1990 Asian Games, could only find work as a security guard after he retired. He died in 2003 from causes related to years of hard training and lack of money for treatment.
Zou Chunlan was another weightlifter champion. After she retired, she was found working as a bathroom attendant, scrubbing backs of customers for years because she was unable to get a better job. Fortunately, after the exposure of her story, she got help from a local women’s group and started her own laundry shop.