Trainer in China ahead of Olympics

August 10, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Their athletic facilities might be out of date and training techniques behind the times, but the focus and intensity of Chinese athletes are unmatched, according to Doug Lentz, who recently returned from a week at the Shanghai Sports Institute.

Lentz, the director of fitness and wellness at Results Fitness Center, an affiliate of Summit Health, is also the conferences and special programs coordinator for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Its membership is made up of 33,000 strength coaches, athletic and personal trainers, physical therapists and exercise researchers and scientists.

At the end of May, Lentz and Jay Dawes, the NSCA's education director, went to the world's most populous city to work with 180 coaches, 20 coaching directors and a handful of athletes lecturing on and demonstrating weight-lifting techniques and plyometrics - exercises designed to develop the kinds of explosive power shot-putters, weight lifters and other athletes need to excel.


"A lot of what we're teaching didn't emanate from America," Lentz said. Plyometrics, for example, was developed by the Soviets in the 1960s, but the techniques have been further researched and refined in the United States, he said.

Few of the coaches spoke English, so Lentz and Dawes relied heavily on interpreters, including one who had studied in Chicago and called himself Michael Jordan.

"You had to earn their respect," Lentz said of the coaches, most of whom, he was told, were either former world champions or Olympic athletes.

Not all great athletes make great coaches, but the meritocracy system the Chinese sports establishment uses eliminates a lot of the politics that go into coaching in this country, Lentz said.

"It's all about performance," he said.

"Their intensity is at a level we can't relate to," Lentz said. A translator told him athletes are expected to train five to seven hours a day, seven days a week and 364 days a year.

"They over-train to the nth degree," Lentz said of one shortcoming in Chinese athletics.

There are about 1.3 billion Chinese, four times the population of the United States.

Chinese athletes have been strong in diving, gymnastics and other sports, but with so many people, a national program to excel and the means to accomplish those goals, China is producing world-class athletes in areas long dominated by the West.

China will get the chance to showcase its nation and athletes this month when it hosts the Olympics in Beijing.

Yao Ming is no fluke. The Houston Rockets player is the most visible Chinese athlete in this country, but Lentz said he met a 6-foot-9-inch tall 14-year-old with great skills that might one day might be showcased in the NBA just like Yao Ming. The same for a 6-foot-5-inch 18-year-old with impressive small forward skills, he said.

"They've got ... athletes over there we don't know about," Lentz said.

While the Chinese were gracious hosts and inquisitive students, they revealed little about their own methods, preferring to pick the brains of their guests, Lentz said. He received an informal invitation to return in the fall to work with swimming and soccer coaches, but said he would like more give-and-take with his hosts to better understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Beijing has some of the worst air pollution in the world and Shanghai is no different, with the sun often invisible behind a curtain of smog, Lentz said. The cuisine was also unusual.

"They served ducks' tongues one night," he said.

"How's a duck quack without that?" he joked with one of his Chinese dinner guests. He described her response as polite laughter.

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