There have been a number of Kodak moments in the London Olympics, many of them by American athletes, who have now surpassed the Chinese in the overall medal count.

It's amazing just how many American-trained foreign athletes are competing. A number of them had been representing U.S. college teams but returned to their native countries for the London games. It's a tribute to the American athletes when we see them cheering on those foreign competitors who were once their teammates in college.

When it comes to the Olympic spirit, the Chinese leadership appears much more focused on superpower status. A recent photo concerning China's "Medal Factories" the state run schools to train the next generation of Chinese medal winners proves this out. It shows a little girl no more than 5 years old crying out in pain as a full-grown coach stands on her legs.

About 400,000 athletes are currently being instructed in the more than 3,000 "sport schools" across China. From this crop, the best 46,000 or so are selected to attend the elite sports centers. Out of that group will emerge the fewer than 400 who make up China's Olympic team.

Training hard and making self-sacrifice in order to become a world-class athlete and achieve the Olympic motto of "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (Faster, Higher, Stronger)" is readily accepted by Americans at a young age. But the way the Chinese groom their young athletes takes the training regimen to a level that may border on child abuse.

One sports analyst said the Chinese have taken a page from the former East German's Olympic playbook. In order to rise to the top of the medal count, the strategy is to concentrate on sports that produce the most medals. Hence, the Chinese have been focusing on sports such as weightlifting and shooting, which offer the most medals.

To begin in the Chinese Olympic system, children as young as six are handpicked from kindergarten to dedicate their lives to training. A former British Olympic medalist who toured one of Beijing's most elite gymnastics schools was shocked at the treatment he saw. One young boy had marks across his back, raising the suspicion of beatings. Some young girls were reduced to tears as they endured their training routines.

Some members of the Chinese press have protested. One columnist said the training of China's young athletes was "not natural," and that such a harsh regimen at such a young age can do "great harm to children's bodies."

A Hong Kong history professor named Xu Guoqi is the author of a book on China's Olympic movement. He states that the ultimate aim of the medal-focused system is rooted in "winning glory for the nation." He adds that that kind of overstressed focus, however, "takes away from individual joy in sports."

At every level, the Chinese youngsters are taught that their allegiance is to the state. A good example of this focus on total devotion is Chinese diver Wu Minxia. After winning her third Olympic gold medal in London, she finally learned that her grandparents had died and that her mother was battling breast cancer.

Her parents had kept the news from her for years and it wasn't until after she won the 3-metre springboard competition that they finally revealed the news.

Such is life while growing up in a Chinese Medal Factory.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]