Yao Ming is as excited as anyone about the upcoming Olympics on home soil. But the basketball superstar is worried that, with only 42 days left until the opening ceremony, he will not have enough time to tune up.
"I've been waiting for such a great chance on home soil for a long time, but I need more time to get prepared," the 2.26 m center said at a press conference in Beijing yesterday.
Yao Ming held a press conference in Beijing on Thursday. He will start training with the national team on Friday, less than two days after he arrived in Beijng.
Yao has yet to fully recover from the surgery he underwent in March to repair his injured left foot. Still, the Houston Rockets all-star center will start training with the national team today, less than two days after he arrived in Beijing.
"I have no time to take a break or to recover from the jet lag," Yao said. "I will start training with the national team tomorrow. It feels great to be home again."
It is Yao's second trip back to China since he suffered a stress fracture in his foot in February. He was also here in April to receive some Chinese traditional medicine treatment.
His recovery since then has gone well - on Tuesday an X-ray showed his injury is 80 percent healed.
He still practices individually, but says he will return to full-court scrimmages sometime next month.
"It's healing very well and I think I will join the team's full-court practices in mid July."
But Yao was not sure if he would be ready for the 2008 Stankovic Continental Champions Cup, which tips off on July 17. It would be his first official match since the injury.
"The chances are 50-50," Yao said. "But I will try to compete in some warm-ups before the Olympics. The best way to get in basketball shape is on the court."
The 27-year-old icon is shouldering the expectations of an entire nation hoping he will lead China into at least the top six in Beijing. It would be the best result China has ever achieved at an Olympics.
Well aware of the responsibility he bears, Yao has begun his Olympic preparations as early as possible.
"I am making every effort possible to make myself better prepared for the Olympics," he said.
"This is the biggest, weightiest opportunity of my life. Intense pressure goes hand-in-hand with major competitions."
The national team will open its Olympic campaign against the Kobe Bryant-led United States on Aug 10. Its group also includes world champion Spain, African title-holder Angola and two European qualifiers yet to be determined.
"The US and Spain are much stronger than China and I do not think we are able to beat them. So if we want to advance into the next round, we have to defeat Angola and one of the two qualifiers from Europe," Yao said.
As his global influence has increased, Yao has redoubled his commitment to social causes. His latest efforts have included setting up the Yao Foundation in response to May's Wenchuan earthquake.
The foundation will help raise funds to build quake-resistant schools.
"A donation of $100,000 can rebuild a permanent school for about 300 students, while $3,500 can help build a prefabricated classroom with desks and chairs for 50 students," said Yao, who has personally donated $2 million to help rebuild schools.
Yao said his idea of setting up a foundation emerged five years ago but he had to wait until he gained more managerial experience.
"After cooperating with other foundations and launching charity competitions like we did last year, we gained a lot of experience and decided we would set up a foundation after the Olympic Games.
"But the earthquake in Sichuan changed our original plan because we wanted to do something for them as soon as possible."
Yao said NBA stars like Steve Nash and Baron Davis as well as Rockets owner Leslie Alexander have donated to the foundation. He will also look for further financial support.
The foundation's website - yaofoundation.cn - was launched yesterday. Yao's Beijing Olympics shoes and other Yao-related goods will also be auctioned soon.
Yao said he plans a life of fulfilling his social commitments.
"It's different from being an athlete. Basketball is just one part of my life. But my charity work is a lifelong career."
(China Daily June 27, 2008)