Ex-Olympians at home, pupils in Minnesota

Eleven Chinese athletes who found fame at home are now studying kinesiology at the U.

Sam Kraemer

In the United States, the media doesn’t typically cover the departure of American college students heading abroad for a semester.

But for 11 Chinese students spending a year at the University of Minnesota, the Chinese media handled it differently, with their farewell picked up by statewide media.

That’s because all of the Chinese students have participated in some sort of international athletic competition — ranging from world championships to the London Olympics — and are now studying at the University as part of the School of Kinesiology’s China Champions Program.

Ten former Chinese athletes and one Olympic-level coach are continuing their master’s level education at Beijing Sport University with a year abroad at Minnesota.

“They’re really celebrities in China, so it’s my honor to help them adjust here,” said Sandy Wang, a teaching assistant in the sports management program and volunteer with CCP.

In Minnesota, the students take English and School of Kinesiology classes in addition to learning about sports and culture in the U.S.

They’ve already attended a Gophers football game, a rock concert and Valleyscare, the Halloween-themed festival at the Valleyfair amusement park in Shakopee, Minn.

Wang, who was also an international student when she came to the University four years ago, serves as a volunteer assistant and translator to the students.

She said assisting the students is difficult.

“It’s really a 24/7 job,” Wang said, “but I know how hard it is for them to get here.”

The students are in Minneapolis thanks in large part to Dr. Li Li Ji, the director of the School of Kinesiology, who brought the program to Minnesota with him after he left the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“China approached us because these are the most celebrated athletes in China, and it greatly benefits both sides,”Ji said.

One of the participating students is Lu Chunlong, who won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and a bronze medal in London for men’s trampoline. He said he didn’t have to adjust too much to life in a different country thanks to his experience competing and training in China.

“I have been away from home since I was a teenager living with the team for competition and traveling all over the world,” Chunlong said.

He and his classmates said they researched the University of Minnesota well in advance of their trip, which explains why they were prepared for Monday’s snowfall.

“Beijing is cold in the winter, but not as cold as here,” Chunlong said. “I bought the boots and gloves, so I’m ready to welcome the winter.”

Li Ting, another student in the CCP, won a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics in women’s synchronized 3-meter diving.

But her favorite part of America has nothing to do with athletics.

“I really like the education method because I feel it’s very creative,” Ting said.

She said she really enjoys being able to interact with students and professors, too, because they normally just listen in China.

But despite the amount of success these students have had in a range of athletics, they seem grateful for the chance to study in the U.S.

“I was nervous up until coming here, and suddenly my dream came true. I now have my opportunity, and I’m very excited,” Chunlong said.