China's medical backup

OLYMPICS/ Spotlight

Pure of body, pure of mind
By Tan Yingzi (China Daily/Thei Olympian)
Updated: 2008-03-07 10:44

Yao Ming said last week that if he misses the Beijing Olympics due to injury, it would be the biggest loss of his career. And he is not alone - the other 1,200 Chinese athletes, training intensely for the Bejing Games, feel the same way.

A doctor with Third Hospital of Peking University examines the injured knee of Chinese female volleyball player Feng Kun in this undated photo. China’s top sports official Cui Dalin said many hospitals across Beijing have set up a “green channel” to give China’s Olympians the quickest and best possible treatment. []

Yao’s recent foot injury sounded a warning bell for Chinese Olympians and officials, reminding everyone just how easily injuries - both physical and mental - can occur when athletes are training hard.

“We have been watching our athletes closely and trying to prevent them from any illness or injuries before the Games,” said Cui Dalin, deputy-director of the State General Administration of Sport (SGAS), the top governing body of China’s sports development.

Cui said the SGAS has strengthened its medical and psychological support system for the national teams.

For example, a “Green channel” has been set up in many hospitals across Beijing to allow injured athletes easy access to the quickest and best possible treatment.

“Our athletes can get the quickest and best treatment in those hospitals,” he said.

Five hospitals across the city that specialize in sports-related injuries have been designated for China’s Olympians, including Third Hospital of Peking University, where star athletes such as Zheng Jie and Ma Xiaoxu received treatment.
To the relief of Chinese sports fans, superstar hurdler Liu Xiang now has special protection from potential ailments.

Chinese athletics team leader Feng Shuyong said some 30 physical therapists are currently working with the national squad. Liu has three personal doctors, including one from the US, who will help him take precaution and recover from any harm he may suffer.
The men’s 110m hurdles Olympic champion and world record holder will run his first race of the new season at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain, tomorrow.

“We have had the best winter training session and Liu is in a sound form both physically and mentally,” said Liu’s coach Sun Haiping.

Sun is well known for his advanced and scientific training methods in athletics and has successfully prevented Liu from major injuries since 1998.

“We take every tiny injury very seriously, and avoiding injuries is our top priority before the upcoming Games,” he said.

Psyched for the Olympics

Physical well-being is not the only concern for athletes under intense pressure as they perform in front of a home crowd.

Cui said he realized how much home-court pressure affects young Olympians’ performances after watching a gymnastics test competition earlier this year.

The gymnasts’ parents were invited to watch the competition, which seemed to make the athletes unexpectedly nervous as several of them fell during their routines.

In response, Cui said a psychological consulting program has been established to help Chinese athletes deal with the pressure.
“The investment is unprecedented,” Cui told China Daily.
The leader of China’s Olympic psychological consulting team, Zhang Zhongqiu, also told China Daily that in April they will launch the country’s first sports psychology website, specially designed for Chinese Olympians and their coaches.
It will offer multimedia materials on sports psychology and interactive communication tools between users and mental-health experts.
The system will also allow athletes and coaches to choose their own favorite psychologists to deal with their issues offline.
Athletes and coaches who have already booked their places in Beijing can now log on to the website, which has a very detailed database for each Chinese Olympian.
“In order to protect the privacy of the athletes, the website uses a very advanced security system, similar to what banks use for VIP customers,” said Zhang, China’s first sports psychologist.
“Any time, any place, athletes can download our materials to their mobile phones, send text messages to experts, or make reservations for consultation,” he said.
The Olympic psychological consulting squad includes 22 experts from leading local institutes, including the Institute of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Department of Psychology at Beijing Normal University.
Zhang’s sports psychology lab at the China Institute of Sport Science is armed with world-class equipment. It offers counseling to 17 national teams and includes techniques such as somato-sensory music regulation, a new acoustic therapy to help ease stress.
The lab also hosts lectures and workshops for coaches who play a key role in athletes’ training and competition. “Coaches are the most important people for athletes and they should help athletes and their parents deal with the stress and pressure,” Zhang said.
Gold-winning Chinese teams, such as diving, shooting and gymnastics, have counted on the sports psychologists for years.
Many sports celebrities, like gymnastic world champion Yang Wei and diving diva Guo Jingjing, are willing to share their innermost thoughts with their favorite psychologists in times of trouble and depression, Zhang said.