Many were left scratching their heads and trying to understand new tests conducted on sportsmen entirely unrelated to their physical skills.
The tests, which were introduced earlier this year, resulted in at least six elite swimmers dropping out of the tournament – an important reference for their qualification for the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Earlier this year, the General Administration of Sports of China introduced a list of physical tests for all sportsmen, from athletes, basketball and table tennis players to fencers, archers, chess players and weightlifters.
It is aimed at strengthening their abilities, be it mentally or physically.
According to the local media, the test results will be used as a guideline in the selection of sportsmen representing China in the Tokyo Olympics, which has been postponed to mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In order to qualify, the sportsmen not only need to excel in their respective fields, they must also do well in the physical tests which include running.
Among those to feel the pain of this new policy are the swimmers.
The 2020 Chinese National Swimming Championships was held from Sept 26 to Oct 2 at the coastal city of Qingdao in Shangdong province, and the physical test was conducted on Sept 22-23.
All swimmers must complete five categories – vertical jump, pull-up, trunk muscles strength training, a 30m sprint and a 3,000m run – in the test.
Each category offers 10 points.
At the tournament, out of the 16 best swimmers in the preliminary rounds, only eight who scored the highest points in their physical tests could compete in the final round.
On the first day, Yu Hexin broke the nation’s record in the men’s 50m freestyle category but he was unable to advance to the final because his score for the physical test was not good enough.
It was the same for emerging star Wangjian Jiahe, who set a new Asian record in the 1,500m freestyle event.
Olympic gold medallist Ye Shiwen and bronze medallist Fu Yuanhui also shared the same fate.
Although Fu ranked first in the 100m backstroke event with a handsome timing of 59.48sec, she did poorly in the fitness test, scoring only 26 points.
News of her being dropped from the final round ranked No. 1 on the hot search list of Sina Weibo, Chinese’s Twitter, with 260 million views.
Ye finished fourth in the 400m medley event and scored only 33 points in the physical test.
Fu later explained that she did badly in the 3,000m run.
“I knew myself, I have been training very hard for the test and, in fact, I have made good progress,” she told a media interview, adding that she only scored six points before the training.
Although upset, Fu said she would continue to train hard to improve her physical strength.
Before the test, she wrote on social media that she did not expect she would be running one day.
The other swimmers who failed to make it to the final due to the test were Yu Jingyao and Fang Zhe.
Swimming is one of events China can bank on if it hopes to see a repeat of its proudest Olympics success in Japan next year.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the host country sat on top of the medals tally with a total of 100 medals including 51 golds.
Six of the medals were bagged by its swimming team.
Apart from the swimmers, athletes who faced the same hurdles in advancing their careers are fencers Sun Yiwen and Lin Shengyin, and Olympics silver medallists in synchronised swimming Huang Xuechen and Sun Wenyan.
It was reported that, at press time, the Chinese chess team was undergoing fitness test, which required the players to perform sit-ups, long jump and a 1,000m run, among others.
Criticisms were pouring in from netizens throughout the country, condemning the authorities of sabotaging its own athletes.
“Asking a swimmer to run is like forcing a fish to slip through the ground,” said an Internet user.
The netizens agreed that while it was important to strengthen the athletes’ abilities, the one-size-fits-all method should not be applied on everyone as the physical strength differs from one athlete to another.
“Why should a chess player need to run 1,000m?” another social media user questioned.
The General Administration of Sports vice-minister Li Jianming said the fitness test was set to whip sportsmen into shape and strengthen their physical abilities, a common weakness in Chinese athletes.
The test would not be the only guideline in the selection of sportsmen for the Olympic Games.
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