In Anshan city of Anhui Province, a group of children aged from 6-10 years old are committed to diving practice for a whole 2 years. At the end of the training, they either get selected into the official diving regiment, or go home.
56-year-old Hu Qijun is a retired athletes and coach to the children. He has been coaching for the larger part of 30 years and his coaching spectrum varies from gymnastics to diving. To the young athletes, he is the combination of coach and father, and "Papa" is what they called him.
The Papa is amicable to the children but very strict during training. He sets up strictly enforced agenda for the team: get up at 7:20am, morning drill and breakfast, then 9am sharp start training until 11:30am, lunch and nap, afternoon either literary class or diving training again, at night the kids can watch TV, 10pm sharp all the kids must be in bed. Every morning at 10, the children would climb up the high diving platform, get set and dive, again and again.
101, 102, 103… the children don’t exactly how many times they have to repeat the same move before the coach instructs to move on to the next. The youngest one in the team is only 6, and the oldest 10. They all come from different villages in Anhui Province and their parents migrate to work in the same city. From not knowing how to swim, to being able to pull off difficult diving positions, the children learn everything from scratch during their 2 years in the camp.
On Sept 6 2014, they will face their final test, the provincial sporting meeting. All the efforts in the past two years will be concluded in one path or another – go provincial team or go home. Across the platform there is a national flag. They have been taught to fight for the country from day one.
10 years old Zhu Ziyi has many bruises on her back, it is the result of the splash.
The amateur diving team take an apartment with 2 bedrooms and one living room as their dormitory where Hu Qijun’s wife serves as a nanny and his daughter serves as a tutor to the kids. After training, coach and his daughter assistant take the children back to the dormitory where hot and delicious dinner made by his wife awaits them.
After dinner, all 11 of the children sleep together in the living room.
Great pay doesn’t necessarily come with great gain. It depends not only on skills and athletic talents, but also on appearance and physical quality. Even after entering provincial team, if one fails to fit in the first few months, he still has to pack up and leave; if one survives, he needs to continue to fight for a even smaller chance to get into national team. Hu Qijun’s daughter had been training for 8 years in the provincial team but failed to enter the national team. Now she helps her dad in the diving camp. Hu says: "A couple of these kids will make it into the provincial team, and maybe one or two even end up in a Olympic stadium. China is never short of good divers. There are lots of obstacles ahead, but the kids are willing to try their best."
After the competition in 10 days, he will have to say goodbye to all the children, and go back to pick new ones from Chenqiao Elementary School again.
"This is the rule of sports." Says the coach.