If Olympic medals were awarded for standing perfectly still with a smile on your face for long periods of time, Beijing student Ma Sha would be a serious contender for gold in August.
The 20-year-old's skill is the result of daily practice for almost a year but the effort will be worth it when she gets the chance to play her part in the Beijing Olympics.
Ma, an aspiring flight attendant, is one of 337 "Olympic victory ceremony volunteers" who have been in training since last July to act as hostesses when the world's best athletes receive their medals.
"It is really a precious opportunity, having the Olympics in China, and I wanted to make my own contribution to it," Ma said after a demonstration of a typical ceremony.
Like the other 14 members of the team that will host the ceremonies at the National Indoor Stadium, Ma is training to be an air hostess.
Only four of her class of 60 students made it through the strict selection process and embarked on the equally rigorous training regime.
"We start training at about eight every day and its mostly standing and endurance," she said. "In the standing sessions, we have to stand still and smile for half an hour or more. We also run about a thousand metres every day for physical conditioning."
Greg Bowman, executive producer of sports presentation for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, has been impressed with the results of the most comprehensive rehearsal programme for any Olympics.
"They are extremely well-practised and well-drilled," said the Australian, who was also involved in preparations for the Sydney and Athens Games. "They're probably the best drilled medal presenters I've seen this early before the event."
One of Ma's colleagues, who declined to give her name, rejected the idea that the training had turned them into robots and that their smiles were insincere.
"We are much nicer and kinder than robots," she said. "We have to remain elegant and smiling in all circumstances, even when we're really nervous. But when a smile is truly from heart it is easy to sustain for that long."
(Shanghai Daily June 17, 2008)