When I first thought of going to China in 1988, no one was talking much about China. I went mostly out of curiosity for this secretive faraway land. In the last years, it is almost impossible not to hear about China in many realms — political, economic, industrial, space exploration, business, and certainly in sports. Tracy Wilkinson, in an article in the Los Angeles Times, looked into the sports connection between Mexico and China.
Diving coach Ma Jin and Olympic diving athlete Paola Espinosa had many differences to overcome, not the least of which was language. Since they met in 2005, Paola Espinosa has won the 2009 world diving championships in Rome (beating out Chinese diver Chen Ruolin), as well as two silver Olympic medals. In that time, Ma Jin has learned to speak Spanish, married a Mexican, and had a child born in Mexico. She is there to stay at least another decade, if not more.
China's connections with Mexico, as well as Latin America, began years ago when China sought new sources of raw materials and consumer markets. In 2002, Mexico broadened the scope of their connection by bringing in 50 Chinese coaches to train Mexican athletes. Mexico needed more Olympic winners, and were impressed by the level of Chinese competitors. Could Chinese coaches make Mexican athletes better?
Paola Espinosa knew that Mexicans "do a lot from the heart," but she learned from Ma "technique, precision and strength." Nelson Vargas, former head of the National Sports Commission who spearheaded bringing over Chinese coaches, wanted Mexican athletes to be more like Chinese athletes because, "It's about giving 100 percent, body and soul. We needed to learn to pay that price. That level of sacrifice." Emphasis on technique, discipline, endless repetition and punctuality took over under Chinese coaches. And, adapting to the Chinese mentality of what it means to compete on an international level has brought tangible results.
In the U.S., it is now the Chinese students, homegrown as well as from abroad, who are taking the top honors from grammar schools to graduate schools. The Chinese mentality that the Mexican athletes are learning to add to the heart they bring to their sport works across many other endeavors. To me, there is a curious irony in the fierceness of Chinese competition within a culture that is generally more group-oriented than individualistic.
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