ROBUST RIDERS: A group of bicycle enthusiasts ride through the streets of Hohhot, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, on June 10 (LIN CHAO)
As Chinese athletes strive for medals and glory at the London 2012 Olympic Games, their less-gifted countrymen back home are aiming to meet their personal fitness goals by participating in sports.
In June, the first Shanghai Citizens Sports Meeting (CSM), an event intended to help the city's populace get fit, was launched by the Shanghai Municipal Government and will continue until November. The initiative, to be held every four years to correspond with the summer Olympics, will host more than 2,000 games in 50 different sports this year.
It marks the first time a local government has implemented fitness programs in a city-wide sports gala since China unveiled its Outline of Nationwide Physical Fitness Program (NPFP) in 1995 in a bid to promote healthier exercise habits among the people.
"We hope to educate people about the benefits of doing sports; encourage them to join us and gradually make sports a main part of people's lifestyles through CSM," said Li Yuyi, Director of the Shanghai Administration of Sports.
"There is no conflict between mass sports and competitive sports. Instead, they are complementary," Li said. "The outstanding performances of Chinese athletes at the Olympic Games will attract more people, especially children, to fill arenas, and the prospering of mass sports will help enrich the talent reserves of competitive sports."
The Fourth National Fitness Day fell on August 8 this year. Thousands of people in Beijing marked the day by performing the ninth edition of the country's broadcast calisthenics. Meanwhile, a basketball tournament for citizens in the capital was launched by the General Administration of Sport (GAS) and Beijing Municipal Government.
Across the country, local governments organized a variety of sporting activities, such as five-on-five football matches, marathons, bicycle races and folk sports events to celebrate the special day.
The First National Fitness Day was held on August 8, 2009, to mark the anniversary of the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
A nationwide campaign
Six decades have passed since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. Within this short time span, China has made great progress in both promoting national fitness and training talented athletes.
China topped the gold medal tally with 51 four years ago at the Beijing Olympic Games, affirming that it has been on the right track to becoming a sports powerhouse.
However, racking up medals is no longer China's sole focus, as it moves to promote the health and fitness among the wider population.
"Most importantly, the Beijing Olympic Games have also played a major role in luring more people into the country's mass sports program," said Liu Peng, Director of the GAS.
"After the Beijing Olympic Games, more Chinese started to exercise voluntarily as governments and sports authorities paid more attention to mass sports, creating an atmosphere for the progress of sport," said Sheng Zhiguo, Director of the Mass Sport Department of the GAS.
According to Sheng, a third of the country's population now participates in sports regularly, up from 28.2 percent three years ago. The overall fitness of Chinese people appears to be improving.
Moreover, more than 1.1 million sports venues have been built around the country, along with more than 250,000 gyms set up in communities, public parks, squares, roadsides and other convenient locations. The number of social sports instructors is approaching 800,000.
This year, the GAS will further earmark 300 million yuan ($47.62 million) from the sale of sports lotteries to build more sports facilities for the general public, according to Liu.
The government has stipulated that 60 percent of the proceeds from the sports lotteries must go to the NPFP.
The lottery, established in 1994, is important for raising funds for sporting and recreation events and for maintaining sports facilities. Thirty percent of the lottery's revenues are used for public projects including sports meetings and mass sports programs, according to the GAS.
With the flourishing of nationwide fitness activities, people's attitudes have also undergone great changes. In many large and medium-sized cities, spending money in the pursuit of good health has become trendy. Some of the newly emerging sports, including horseracing, yoga, pole dancing, women's boxing, kendo, taekwondo and golf are particularly popular among youth.
The Chinese Government has worked hard to promote the country's mass sports activities and its people's fitness.
Aiming to improve the health and physical condition of the general population, the NPFP encouraged everyone to engage in at least one sporting activity every day, learn at least two ways of keeping fit and have a health check every year.