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UPDATED: September 1, 2008 No. 36 SEPTEMBER 4, 2008
Coaches Made-in-China
China's latest export, an overseas coaching legion, received lots of attention as well as understanding in Beijing

THAT'S MY COACH: Qiao Liang poses with his student Shawn Johnson after she wins a gold in the balanced beam event, on August 19

In addition to diving, there are a number of Chinese table tennis coaches overseas. One of the best known is Liu Guodong, head coach of the Singapore women's table tennis team, whose younger brother is the incumbent head coach of the Chinese men's table tennis team. Over a short period, the Singapore women's team has risen from settling for fifth or the sixth place in Asian competitions to claiming second place in Beijing, winning the first Olympic medal for Singapore.

Although Chinese athletes in general are not strong in track and field, surprisingly, James Li, manager of the U.S. track and field team, was born and grew up in China. He was known as Li Li in China. Li is famous for coaching Bernard Lagat, the current 1,500 meters American record holder and two-time Olympic medalist.

On surface, the Chinese-born coaches teaching abroad have made it more difficult for Chinese teams to win gold, even in events that China traditionally excels at. On the other hand, with stronger foreign contenders, events traditionally monopolized by China will become more exciting to watch.

Homely welcome

Chinese-born coaches working overseas were warmly welcomed in Beijing.

Jenny Lang Ping, China's volleyball heroine, received loud applause from Chinese audiences when the American women's volleyball team she coached beat the Chinese team. A household name in China, Lang was nicknamed the "iron hammer." In the 1980s, she served as the chief spiker of the China women's national volleyball team and helped it to win three major international competitions, including the Olympics. Having taken five consecutive world titles in the 1980s, the team was legendary for their "spiritual legacy." Lang later served as the team's coach and led it to claim silver in the 1996 Olympics and at the 1998 world championships.

At the Beijing Olympics, the U.S. team that Lang coaches beat the Chinese women's team 3 to 2. The U.S. team won silver in Beijing, while the Chinese team won bronze.

After the 2000 Sydney Games, the American Volleyball Coaches Association invited Lang to teach the U.S. national team, but she refused. Five years later, the United States extended another invitation, and Lang decided to think about it, because she wanted to be close to her daughter who was studying in the United States. Lang spoke with friends about what she should do. Some asked her, "You are a Chinese heroine. If you coach China's rival team, can you stand up to the pressure from the Chinese people?" Though usually a resolute person, Lang could not make up her mind for several months. China's famous Internet portal, sina.com held an opinion poll on the subject, and the poll surprisingly showed that a majority of voters supported Lang to coach the U.S. team. The poll helped Lang to make her final decision.

After the United States beat the Chinese women's volleyball team, few condemned Lang as a traitor. "I feel that volleyball unites the world as a family. Sport is borderless," Lang said. "In the Beijing Olympics, I feel very much at home."

Chinese-born coach Qiao Liang also attracted attention from Chinese audiences in Beijing.

"I do not feel any pressure from the audience. Rather, they support every outstanding athlete and applaud for them," Qiao said of the audiences in Beijing. "I am impressed by the open-mindedness of the Chinese audiences." Qiao used to be a major player in China's national gymnastics team in the 1980s.

Now Qiao is the coach of Shawn Johnson, the U.S. gymnast who pocketed a gold in the balanced beam, as well as silvers in the floor individual, the all-around individual and the team event on her Olympic debut in Beijing. Johnson said that Qiao was like a father and never lost his temper.

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