Photos: Chinese kids on the trampoline
In 2008, He Wenna won the first Olympic trampoline gold medal for China. Within the next few years, this previously unpopular sport has been elevated to be another priority and potentially medal-rich discipline of China. Under China’s state-supported sports system, batch after batch of preschool-age children are being sent onto the path that is laid for nothing but churning out a champion.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, He Wenna from Fujian province won the first ever gold medal in trampolining. At the time, trampoline, as a competitive Olympic sport, had just come into the view of Chinese people. There was little trampoline culture or even perception in China. In the next year, the Fujian Trampoline Training Center was launched and soon was awarded the status of “Training Center For the National Team”. Trampoline, after it produced an Olympic gold for China, became the “Top Priority” sport of Fujian province. The picture shows a coach instructs her students at the trampoline division of Fuzhou City Sport School.
Spurred by the policy, Fuzhou on the one hand pumped funds into the project and on the other, stepped up its recruiting effort. Usually, trampoline coaches only recruit those who appeal to them. Good look and lean physique are the most important requirement that preschool-age children need to meet in order to be selected. “It will be even better if their families are poor. Such children will be able to eat more bitterness,” one coach said, using the Chinese term for enduring hardship, “and then they may stick to it longer.” Currently, more than 30 students aged between 5 and 16 are enrolling at Fuhou City Sports School, most of whom came from humble backgrounds.
In the 1960s, China’s Sports General Administration put forth the guiding principles of training “with the highest degree of difficulty, strictly, as required by actual battles and with large amount of physical exertion”. Such a training mode has persisted to this day. To children, it means spending more than a decade practicing a few moves on the trampoline until they reach the point of perfection. The picture shows a little girl keeps her arm muscles at their stretch. In order to make her arms more powerful on the trampoline, she has to repeat this training every day.
It is coaches who are the strictest with kids. It is also coaches who are the closest to kids. These young coaches had a similar past with their students. Every day, they need to correct kids’ posture one by one. The picture shows a female coach bends the back of a boy.
Youngsters at the sports school push to the limit of their strength every day. The picture shows at the trampoline center, a coach helps a boy stretch his tendon by pinning his back to the floor.
Inside the trampoline center, a girl cries during a training session.
Each day, the trampoline center is filled with wails, screams during training sessions and laughter during breaks. The picture shows two kids playing on trampolines.
The sports school provides a 25-yuan-per-day food stipend. There is milk in the morning, and yogurt in the evening. But meals with little variation seldom thrill kids. Girls who are entering adolescence are becoming conscious of their weight and restricting their food intake. The picture shows a boy serves himself food at the dining hall.
The trampoline team follows a schedule that incorporates formal education in the morning and sports training in the afternoon. In order to prepare the students for the grueling training later in the day, the school requires students to take a nap in the noon break. But kids driven by their playful nature always try to “fight the system”. The picture shows in the boys’ dorm, a boy takes a nap while others play poker games on the floor.
A boy mimics the bodybuilding poses.
Fuzhou’s trampoline team has 40 members, less than one third of whom are boys, which makes boys seem especially precious. Yu Junxuan and Yu Junxian are a pair of 8-year-old twin brothers. In 2011, they were elevated to Fuzhou Sports School’s trampoline team from the county under Fuzhou. On the female-dominant trampoline team, they are regarded as darlings. The picture shows the twin brothers talk to parents over the phone.
The 5-year-old girl in the picture has a grandfather who is among the first batch of trampoline coaches after the sport was introduced to China in 1997. Her grandfather carried her onto the trampoline and led her into the sport the moment she learned how to walk.
Chi Mengting, who has a beautiful face, has been singled out and groomed carefully by the coaches. Ever since she reached puberty at 11, her weight has made it increasingly difficult for her to cope with intensive training. Similarly, all female trampoline gymnasts her age have to constantly battle weight gain and stay lean. In order to carry on with their athletics career, they have to pay much more effort than their male counterparts. The picture shows Chi Mengting with a downcast expression after her coach scolds her.
The kids’ hands are covered with calluses they have developed from overtraining. Skin creases on the sole of the foot are the result of too much rubbing against the trampoline when training barefoot. One coach said, “They will also have chronic health problems for the rest of their lives after they become professional athletes.”
A coach applying ointment to a student.
No slacking on training is allowed, because there aren’t many opportunities for them to make public appearances and stand out – they only have the once-a-year provincial trampoline championship and the provincial sports games held every four years. It is already very lucky of them if they can make it to the provincial level. The picture shows the kids practice the basics.
Every day after dinner, kids will make full use of the precious 15-minute break to go to the corner shop nearby to get a glimpse at TV and a bite of snacks. This is their moment of relaxation. The picture shows a few kids play in the aisle.
Each one of the kids here is a “backup” for the nation’s sports system that makes concentrated efforts to crank out future Olympic medalists. They all seem to aspire to be a professional athlete, but some of them are not even sure if they like trampolining. Having spent most of their energy on training, kids at sports schools miss out formal education and are academically far behind their peers in regular schools. The picture shows kids of different ages wait in the same classroom for the final session of the day: evening study session.
Day after day, kids at the sports school dedicate most of their childhood to the trampoline. Their only viable path forward, if any, will be getting selected into the provincial sports team and then the national team. However, only the cream of the crop can go that far. Most kids will face elimination sooner or later, and their trampoline dream will be officially over.