In China, top female athletes in many fields often win more medals than their male counterparts. One reason is that female athletes often have male practice partners who can help them train.
In Olympic sports such as judo, taekwondo, and wrestling, top Chinese female athletes often have 4 to 5 male practice partners. Yang Xiuli, the women’s 78kg gold medal winner in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and a top contender for the London 2012 Olympics in judo, has 13 male practice partners! Each of these male athletes models himself after a different female competitor to Yang, so that she can find the best strategy to beat them all.
In table tennis, a sport traditionally dominated by China, male players also help out with the training of their female teammates. In a recent training camp in Zhongsan, Guangdong Providence, the national women’s team trained with several male players who tailored their playing styles to those of the women team’s chief competitors from Singapore, South Korea, and North Korea.
With its unparalleled resources of male athletes that it can assign as training partners to the few elite female athletes, it is no surprise that the Chinese sports system is able to churn out gold medal winners in fields where such training proves to be effective. Because this is a system that is difficult to duplicate in most countries, Chinese female athletes have a unique advantage in these fields.
So for those who may lose to Yang Xiuli in the London 2012 Olympic judo matches, don’t feel too bad about it! After all, if you had 13 male practice partners, you might also have a good chance to win.