Chinese Olympic gymnastics hopeful Zhang Shangwu told The Telegraph
that he has been living on the streets of Beijing, where he sold a pair of gold medals from a 2001 championship for the equivalent of about $16 and used the money to buy food.
Zhang, 28, told the paper that he wasn’t alone. Other athletes also have been cast aside after they were judged useful no longer, he said. Critics decry the practices of what they describe as China’s Soviet-style athletics system.
Zhang was drafted into a state sports program at the age of 5 and groomed to compete in the 2004 Athens Olympics, reports the newspaper. A 2002 injury prevented him from going to the Olympics, and the government sent him off in 2005 with a payment equivalent to nearly $6,000. The money was wiped out when he used much of it to pay for his grandfather’s medical expenses. After losing a food delivery job and then being arrested for theft, Zhang became homeless.
The story has been a scandal in China, where state athletes are honored as national heroes.
"With a world champion descending into such a life, who would want to be a gymnast in the future?" a former teammate of Zhang wrote on a Chinese website.
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