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Coaches without borders
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Christian Bauer, helps China grab its first ever fencing gold medal.

Christian Bauer,  helps China grab its first ever fencing gold medal.

French coach Christian Bauer helped China make Olympic history when the country grabbed its first ever fencing gold medal on Tuesday, August 12.

Ironically, the winner of the men's saber competition, Zhong Man, defeated another Frenchman, Nicolas Lopez, in the final. Asked by a journalist if he would be considered a deserter by French fencers, Bauer replied firmly "No comment". But Zhong Man said of his coach: “He's a professional; a coach first, a Frenchman second."

An influx of foreign coaches has been helping buttress Chinese sports, but simultaneously more and more Chinese coaches are seeking opportunities overseas. Perhaps the most famous of the traveling Chinese is volleyball legend Lang Ping, nicknamed the “Iron Hammer", who coaches the American women's team.

Many believe exchanges of talent in the international marketplace are good for sport, helping nations that are weak in certain events, making events more competitive, and boosting the development of professional athletics as a whole.

Leaving home in search of opportunity

China's coaching exports mainly come from sports it has traditionally dominated, such as diving, table tennis, badminton and gymnastics.

China's star-studded diving team, for example, has sent a galaxy of talents overseas; Chen Wen to Britain, Ma Jin to Mexico, Tong Hui and Chen Xiangning to Australia, and Li Yihua to Canada.

On August 13, Olympic Women's gymnastics came down to a battle between two Chinese coaches; Lu Shanzhen for China, and former Chinese gymnast Qiao Liang for the US. Qiao Liang notably spotted US superstar Shawn Johnson as a young prospect. She is competing in the 2008 Games as one of the Chinese team's most powerful rivals.

There are two main factors behind the Chinese exodus of coaches. It is hard to get a foothold in a domestic scene already replete with excellent coaches; and many retired athletes go overseas to study and then drift into coaching almost by accident.

A policy with a long history

As early as in 1954, China recruited top Hungarian soccer coach Jozsef at a time when Hungary dominated world football following their sensational 6-3 crushing of England at Wembley in 1953. In the 1960s, after Japan recorded a 118-game unbeaten run on the volleyball court, China enticed Japanese coach Daimachu Hirobumi to China to mold its volleyball players into a world class team.

Today China has foreign coaches in basketball, hockey, fencing, canoeing, tennis, judo, baseball and swimming. As a result, the country possesses possibly the most impressive pool of coaching talent in the world.

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