China's children are paying the price for a nation's Olympic ambition

Children practice during a gymnastics summer school on July 28, 2015 in Bozhou, Anhui Province of China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.
Children practice during a gymnastics summer school on July 28, 2015 in Bozhou, Anhui Province of China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

Children in China as young as six are being pushed to the breaking point in sports academies in the hope that they will achieve Olympic glory.

Shocking photos show young girls crying during gruelling gymnastics training at a school dedicated to nurturing sporting talent.

These images come as attitudes around education are starting to shift in China.

Fewer parents are enrolling their children into these gruelling academies and teachers are starting to change the curriculum.

At the Shanghai Yangpu Youth Amateur Athletic School, a coach has to wipe the tears from a wailing girl as he pushes her upper body strength.

A coach helps a young gymnast with flexibility exercises during gymnastics training at a sports training center in Beijing, China Monday, July 28, 2008. Photo / Getty.
A coach helps a young gymnast with flexibility exercises during gymnastics training at a sports training center in Beijing, China Monday, July 28, 2008. Photo / Getty.

The coach holds up a bamboo cane for the girl to reach with her extended legs.

At the same school, a tiny tot bawls as she practices her handstands with three other girls.

Principal Zhu Zengxiang says that the school is going into nurseries to try and advertise gymnastics as an after school past time.

She calls it "happy gymnastics."

China is well known for pushing young people to the limit in order to find potential gold medallists.

Their controversial tactics have paid off since they returned to the Olympics in 1980.

At the Beijing games, the host country topped the medals table and came second to the US at London 2012.

Despite their successes in sport, many sports schools have shut down.

A Young girl practises gymnastic movements watched by her team matesat Chengdu Children's Gymnastics School on January 11, 2005. Photo / Getty IMages.
A Young girl practises gymnastic movements watched by her team matesat Chengdu Children's Gymnastics School on January 11, 2005. Photo / Getty IMages.

In 2010, Beijing released a new policy called document 23.

Schools were ordered to improve their teaching and provide better support for retired athletes.

"In the 1980s and 1990s, schools like ours were extremely attractive," says Huang Qin, party committee secretary at Shanghai's No. 1 Children's Sports School Pudong New Area.

"[But] parents are less willing now to send their child to sports schools

"The school's alumni include former Olympians such as hurdler Chen Yanhao and female footballer Xie Huilin. The source of students for sports schools has shrunk as society placed more importance on cultural education."

Three years ago, the school started to relax its stringent measures.

Students no longer have to live and train on campus, and over half of the 700 athletes study at other schools.

10 per cent of the School's fulltime students live off campus.

CHENGDU, CHINA - JANUARY 11: (CHINA OUT) A young boy tries to lift a barbell with the help of his coach at Chengdu Children's Gymnastics School on January 11, 2005 in Chengdu. Photo / Getty Images.
CHENGDU, CHINA - JANUARY 11: (CHINA OUT) A young boy tries to lift a barbell with the help of his coach at Chengdu Children's Gymnastics School on January 11, 2005 in Chengdu. Photo / Getty Images.

Principal of the Shanghai Sports School Sheng Maowu has introduced academic tests that athletes must pass to train at the institution.

He said: "A lot of sport schools are moving in this direction ... but this is a painful process.

"At present the existing thought is that education and training are two different routes - if you want to be a world champion you cannot study. This belief is wrong ... and at the end of the day very few become champions."

In April, China Sports Daily reported that the number of youngsters training to be table tennis stars had dropped by a quarter since 1987.

Head of the table tennis and badminton centre of China's General Administration of sport said: "In this changing situation, we must re-examine the traditional training system and model for competitive sports."

BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 13: Eight-year-old Niu Dongfang trains at the No. 2 Beijing Shuangqiao School January 13, 2005 in Beijing, China. Photo / Getty Images.
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 13: Eight-year-old Niu Dongfang trains at the No. 2 Beijing Shuangqiao School January 13, 2005 in Beijing, China. Photo / Getty Images.

Former professional athlete Wang Linwen, 25, said that these changes were vital.

She represented Shanxi province in the martial art of wushu.

She said: "I lost a lot because I didn't experience the education system."

Before she retired, she spent the week training and could only study on weekends.

She said: "(Reform) is good, that way sports school students won't come out knowing nothing."

-News.com.au

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