Author Topic: Olympic dream still kicking at school of hard knocks  (Read 1624 times)

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Olympic dream still kicking at school of hard knocks
« on: November 21, 2006, 04:10:57 pm »
Olympic dream still kicking at school of hard knocks

BEIJING (Reuters) - Lu Jinming felt like he had been kicked in the guts when he heard that martial art wushu would not be a demonstration sport at the Beijing 2008 Games.

"We are still very hopeful of it becoming an Olympic item," Lu sighed, as he studied 10-year-olds brandishing swords and launching flying kicks metres away from him.

"But unfortunately the decision is out of our hands."

As a senior coach at Beijing's prestigious Shichahai Sports School, Lu has championed wushu -- both a contact and exhibition sport derived from traditional Chinese martial arts -- for decades and watched graduates mount podiums from regional championships right up to the Asian Games.

The International Olympic Committee, however, loath to endorse more than 28 sports at the Summer Games after years of expansion, have slammed the door shut on wushu for Beijing.

An international wushu tournament is scheduled for 2008 but it will lack the demonstration status that Korean martial art taekwondo enjoyed at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics on its way to becoming a full sport at the Sydney 2000 Games.

With an estimated 60-80 million participants in China alone, the problem is not that wushu is too much of a fringe sport for an Olympic club that welcomes beach volleyball and BMX cycling at Beijing 2008.

It was rather that wushu's highly technical nature might baffle some audiences, Lu said.

"For most foreigners, the spirit and culture of wushu is hard to understand," Lu said.

Watching Lu's 16-year-old prodigy Zhang Fan perform a "Taolu" routine is a case in point.

After one-and-a-half minutes of leaping, spinning kicks and blood-curdling roars, Zhang left the training floor panting, making way for a spear-wielding trainee.

Taolu wushu is the Chinese answer to floor gymnastics, with athletes performing choreographed routines but with kicks, punches and weapons rather than flips, ribbons and balls.

Zhang's highly watchable performance is nonetheless difficult to judge.

A routine's elegance, flow and difficulty -- even the expressions and roars of the performers -- make up the final score.

"In all aspects I want to do well, the thing I most fear is laziness," Zhang, Beijing champion for his age group, said.

Zhang wants to take on the world and beat it. He wants to join the cream of Shichahai's alumni -- an elite group that includes Olympic table tennis gold medallist Zhang Yining and Athens Games taekwondo champion Luo Wei.

Ironically, Zhang may have a better shot at Hollywood stardom than a podium finish at the Olympic Games.

Wushu skills may not be appreciated by Olympic audiences but Western movie-goers watch them regularly in kung fu movies.


Global box office smashes such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", and Zhang Yimou's "Hero" have put wushu techniques on western screens and taken its masters to Hollywood.

Shichahai's most famous wushu graduate was a driven youngster called Li Lianjie, a wushu world champion before he went to Hollywood to be reborn as Jet Li.

"He was so focused, so full of energy...and very clever," coach Lu said.

Zhang is also a fan but more for Li's legacy than his movies.

"Because of Jet Li, the world knows wushu," he said solemnly.

It may be some time before Beijing's wushu team produces another superstar of Li's calibre, but China's Shaolin Temple is fast-tracking the process -- via reality television.

Shaolin monks have teamed up with a Chinese production company to create "Legend of the Shaolin Monk Warrior" -- a show aimed at unearthing the next martial arts hero.

Masters from across China and the world will battle each other for a shot at Hollywood stardom, local media have reported.

Frowning, coach Lu admitted that he had not heard of "Legend".

"Well, we do things differently to the Shaolin Temple," he said. "But it would certainly be a great way to promote the school and wushu."