|Tennis star Li Na is hugged by fans on Saturday during a celebration of her Australian Open victory and launch of a new book in Beijing. Li said she is looking for partners to work with to build a school that combines academic education and tennis training, a different structure from the current State-run athlete training system. [Photo by Zou Hong / China Daily] |
Citing the importance of education, sports celebrities in China are trying to reshape the traditional State-run sports cultivating system by establishing their own schools.
After fully investing their early years in the country's State-run system, in which athletes train full time without receiving an education, many sports stars, like tennis champion Li Na and hoops icon Yao Ming, returned to college. They have sought to make up those missed lessons to help them achieve a smooth transition to new roles in society.
Thus, building schools featuring a combination of academic and physical education has become a new off-court goal for Li and Yao.
"It's always been my dream (to establish a tennis academy) after retirement, and I hope children who specialize in tennis training could also learn academic courses as other students do in ordinary schools," Li told China Daily at the celebration of her Australian Open victory and new book launch on Saturday.
Li, who just ascended to a career-high world No 2 ranking following her successful Australian Open campaign, said she has had discussions with some potential partners about the academy project. However, she said, agreements have not been reached yet because of a "vast gap between ideal and reality".
After Li's Australian Open final, her agent, Max Eisenbud, tennis vice-president of International Management Group, told the media that IMG will look for a real estate company as Li's new sponsor to support her school ideas.
"School classes should be taught at the same time while practicing tennis, and I hope to cooperate with prestigious universities," said Li. "So children could have two options when they turn 18 - keep playing professionally or go to study in colleges."
Li, who started practicing tennis in the early 1990s with the Wuhan provincial team, did not receive much education until temporarily retiring in 2002 to study journalism at Huazhong University of Science and Technology.
The undergraduate program gave Li a break from grinding competition and honed her public relations skills to better deal with media requests.
Boasting outspokenness and wit, Li was named the 2013 Ambassador of the Year of the International Tennis Writers Association before the Australian Open.
Her colorful post-match interviews at major international tournaments coupled with her fluent English have won praise from foreign media.
"Because of her success, there are big media demands on her time, and she handled this with great professionalism. She set a very good example to her fellow players," ITWA co-president Paul Newman said.