Tokyo 2020: China risking Olympic dreams with bizarre physical tests for elite athletes


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There has been ample head-scratching, or whatever the emoji for that is, with Chinese social media users questioning the unrelated physical tests at the Chinese National Swimming Championships that have seen champion swimmers ruled ineligible for finals.
It has also attracted criticism in the mainland’s mainstream media, with athletes such as Asian Games gold medal winning teenager Wang Jianjiahe, Rio 2016 star Fu Yuanhui and Yu Hexin being among seven swimmers who missed out on finals that they qualified for in the pool.
Moreover, Wang set an Asian record in the 1,500m free, while Yu set a national record in the men’s 50m free.
However, proving it in the pool is no longer enough and each of those swimmers was ruled out of their final because they did not finish in the top eight in the pre-tournament physical tests.
“The swimmers took part in vertical jumps, 30-metre sprints, pull-ups, trunk muscle strength training, and 3,000-metre runs in the two-day physical tests,” Xinhua reported. The results of these tests proved to be more important than the official competition, which is also the qualifying event for the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games next summer.
Thankfully, qualifying times have to be met and that cannot be overruled by the Chinese Swimming Association deciding someone is fitter. That does not make it any less unusual.
The tests were introduced after a ruling by the General Administration of Sport of China in February and they were carried out by the CSA ahead of the swimming nationals. Every sport has been asked to obey, from basketball (who were doing it anyway) to table tennis to fencing to chess. The latter has become the butt of jokes online, fitting given you don’t need to be that fit to sit down all day.
As much as this has come as a shock to social media users, it is not unprecedented. Chinese football had its own rule in the 1990s that players could not play unless they could run 3.3km in 12 minutes. If your first yard – or first 3,300 metres – was in your head then there was no place for you. Heaven forbid that talent could outweigh stamina. China’s appalling record in men’s football should be a hint as to the importance of said rule.
Fast forward to 2020 and China’s fastest man, Su Bingtian, was ridiculed on social media in May for his own 3,000m test result, which he finished in 13 minutes, 38 seconds. Other elite athletes complained of the difficulty of their physical tests at the National Track & Field Championships in September.
The physique needed for a sprinter, a distance runner and a shot putter are all very specific to their individual events. How then can they be a subject to a one-size fits all test?
It’s the same for the swimmers with sprints and distance, and that is without considering the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
Never mind that this is a farce entirely of their own making, it is hard to see what the intention behind the ruling from GAS, so gleefully imposed by the CSA, is.
Are they expecting that this general physical fitness will somehow improve upon the very specific event-related fitness that these elite athletes clearly have and have proved time and again in international competition?
Is it that not even these uber-fit athletes are above the general ruling from the very top that China’s population needs to be fitter?
If that is the case then surely, as CSA chief Zhou Jihong said when stating that these tests are here to stay, if “everyone is equal before the rules”, as she told China Sports News last Sunday, then the people putting these rules in place should be putting their money where their mouth is and take them.
There is probably no better example of “Do as I say, not as I do” because if elite athletes need to be able to prove their physical fitness to compete in sports that they have already proved themselves at, and which are completely unrelated, then why not politicians and civil servants?
It’s never going to happen, of course, but it is hard to see this as anything other than a way for China to hamstring its own Olympics hopes. Is China, Olympics-obsessed China, really dead set on shooting itself in the foot ahead of Tokyo 2020?
It is crazy to think that the oft-criticised Chinese FA is admitting that the country’s 1.4 billion people might need a helping hand to qualify for their next Fifa World Cup by naturalising foreign players, while the rest of Chinese sport seems hell bent on making life harder for themselves.

It’s bad for athlete morale, truly confusing, and also rules some of them out of vital competition as they prepare for Tokyo 2020.
When it comes to red tape it is hard to be beat China, but this bureaucracy at its most brainless might make it hard for their athletes to win.
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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