Chinese coach aiming for dream farewell in Taiwan

Kaohsiung, Taiwan - Wang Pinyi, one of China's top gymnastics coaches, defected to Taiwan in 1981 to escape from political persecution.

After having trained Taiwan gymnasts for 27 years, Wang, 87 and suffering from thyroid cancer, plans to retire and return to his home in Kunming, China, but not before realizing his last dream.

"I will keep working until the 2010 Asian Games. I hope my students can bring back at least one medal in the women's gymnastics event," he said in his bedroom which is in a corner of the gymnastics hall in the Pumen High School in Kaohsiung County, south Taiwan.

Of the six Taiwan female gymnasts who have qualified for the 16th Asian Games in Guagnzhou, China, five are from the Pumen High School run by the Fokuangshan Buddhist Monastery.

"If Pumen students win one medal, Master Hsing Yun has promised to pay for a round-the-world trip for our whole gymnastics team, which has about 30 girl students and six coaches," he said.

Master Hsing Yun is the founder of the Fokuangshan Monastery and a firm supporter of the gymnastics camp Wang set up in the Pumen high School in 1990.

Wang was born in 1930 in Yunnan Province, south-west China. He began to learn gymnastics in primary school and in high school, he swept five gold medals in gymnastics events in the Yunnan Province Games.

In 1958, Wang became the head coach for the Yunan gymnastics team. In later years, he produced some of China's finest gymnasts, including Zhang Jian, the coach of Li Ning, China's best gymnast in recent years.

But instead of fame and wealth, Wang's achievements in sports brought him disaster.

In 1960, Wang challenged the official policy that politics should come first in sport, by urging the government to use material incentives to spur athletes to win medals for the state.

This statement made him the target of political campaigns in the next 20 years.

Seeing no way out of his misfortune, Wang, in 1981, crossed the border into Thailand, hoping to seek political asylum in the United Sates or Canada.

Taiwan, a rival of China, learned about Wang's defection and granted him asylum first. Wang arrived in Taipei on October 1, 1981. He was 51.

He was entrusted with the task of training gymnasts, about which Taiwan knew very little.

Taiwan's national sport is baseball but lacks a sound training system for athletes in other sports.

"The first thing the Taiwan government asked me to do was to hold a month-long seminar for Taiwan's gymnastics teachers, coaches and athletes. I taught them the categories of gymnastics events and how to select a gymnast, because they knew nothing about gymnastics," he said.

Wang trained gymnasts at the Tsoying National Athletes' Training Centre in Kaohsiung, south Taiwan, until 1990, when he set up the training camp at the Pumen High School.

While there are a dozen gymnastics training camps across Taiwan high, Wang's is different because his training starts from kindergarten and runs through high school.

China adopts the training system of the former Soviet Union, but athletes in Western countries train on their own in clubs. Wang believes Taiwan should train student athletes in after-class hours, but should start from kindergarten.

"With a good coach and intensive training, you can produce some good gymnastics in 6-10 years," he said.

In the past decade, students trained by Wang have swept most of the gold medals in gymnastics in Taiwan's national sports games, but there is still a long way to go before Taiwan can win gold in gymnastics in an international competition.

The best prize Taiwan has won in gymnastics was a silver won by Chang Feng-chih in vault in the 1993 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships held in Birmingham, England.

In 2005, as China-Taiwan ties began to improve, Wang asked China if he could return to Kunming to visit his wife and four children, and the request was granted.

Since then, Wang has visited Kunming several times and plans to settle down in Kunming after retirement.

"I have no more fears because the current Chinese leadership are trying to develop China's economy. Political struggle is a thing of the past," he said.

He admires China's achievements in sports but hates the politics in China's sports.

Taking the example of the Beijing Olympics, Wang said that Chinese referees raised the scores of Chinese athletes.

"In men's horizontal bar and in women's uneven bar events, the two golds which went to China should have gone to US gymnasts Jonathan Horton and Nastia Riukin who performed much better," he said. (dpa)



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