UW–Madison welcomes third group of Chinese Champions

They know the thrill of winning Olympic gold and standing atop the victors’ podium.

Weightlifter Liu Chunhong set world records at the Olympics in Athens in 2004 and again in Beijing in 2008. Weightlifting teammate Cao Lei set an Olympic record as she captured gold in Beijing. Luo Wei won her gold medal in taekwondo in Athens and Yang Hao netted gold in Athens and bronze in Beijing as a member of the women’s volleyball team.

As the 2012 Olympics got underway in London, these women were traveling abroad yet again. This time, instead of competing for their country, China, they have come to Wisconsin to build their sports leadership skills and get a taste of life in the United States.

Six world-class athletes arrived in Madison last weekend to become students in the Chinese Champions Program at UW–Madison. In addition to the four Olympic medalists, the group includes Zhu Minyuan, who won a gold medal in doubles 500-meter canoeing at the 15th Asian Games in 2006, and Kong Fantao, who won a gold medal in the 2000 World Cup Championships of Taekwondo.

Three more student-athletes are scheduled to join them soon, rounding out the program’s third cohort: Li Ting, whose long list of tennis titles include a gold in women’s doubles in the Athens 2004 Olympics; swimmer Qian Hong, who won a bronze medal in the Seoul 1988 Olympics and gold at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics in the 100-meter butterfly; and Hu Ni, a former member of China’s synchronized swimming team and winner of an individual gold medal at the 2000 Asian Swimming Championships.

The Chinese Champions Program – a unique partnership with Beijing Sport University (BSU), the China Scholarship Council and UW–Madison – brings Chinese Olympic and world champion medalists to UW-Madison as students in a non-degree sports leadership seminar. The champions are high-profile athletes enrolled in a post-graduate program at BSU designed to help them make the transition to new roles within China’s sports infrastructure.

The Chinese Champions Program is managed at UW–Madison by the Division of International Studies, in partnership with the Department of Kinesiology and the English as a Second Language program. UW Athletics, the Division of Housing and International Student Services provide additional support.

Madison welcomes Chinese Champions.
Madison community welcomes Chinese Champions.

The Chinese student-athletes live in apartments at Eagle Heights, where the first six to arrive were welcomed Saturday by members of the campus and local Chinese community.

They will be here until Dec. 15. The first few weeks will be filled with coursework, orientations and ongoing training. The customized set of classes focuses on sports management, training and organization, plus intensive English.

The champions also will have opportunities to participate in special activities, starting with a visit to the Wisconsin State Fair on UW-Madison Day. Activities by previous cohorts have included being introduced on the field at Badger football games, attending a Milwaukee Brewers game, and touring cranberry and ginseng operations in northern Wisconsin.

The idea for the Chinese Champions Program grew out of discussions between UW-Madison leaders and BSU vice president Chi Jian, who visited campus as part of a 2008 delegation of presidents and deans of top Chinese institutions. UW leaders saw the partnership with BSU – the foremost sports, physical education and exercise science institution in China – as a way to help build relationships in China while offering the UW community a one-of-a-kind experience.

“The Chinese people and government are appreciative of UW’s educational service on behalf of Chinese young people, who are heroes and household names back home in China,” says Edward Friedman, emeritus professor of political science and a recognized expert on China. Friedman has served as director of the Chinese Champions Program.

“As a result, no UW-Madison program with China gets anywhere near the positive publicity in China that this program does,” he says.

As China advances toward becoming the world’s largest economy, he explains, the Beijing government continues to invest in research and higher education, which creates opportunities that are attractive to faculty, staff and students at UW–Madison.

“By enhancing the recognition and worth of the UW brand in China,” Friedman says, “the publicity about this program hopefully will make it easier for UW-Madison students and faculty—whether interested in business, law, medicine, environment, or almost any other field—to be better able to succeed in their diverse goals all over China.”

— by Kerry G. Hill

Chinese Champions Visit State Fair on UW-Madison Day. Photos: David Joiner

Chinese Champions Program at University of Wisconsin-Madison — 2012 Incoming Class

  • Luo Wei, taekwondo, gold medalist in the Athens 2004 Olympics and 2003 World Championships;
  • Yang Hao, volleyball, member of the women’s volleyball team that won gold at the Athens 2004 Olympics and bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games;
  • Liu Chunhong, weightlifting, gold medalist in Athens 2004 Olympics (set world record) and in Beijing 2008 Olympics, and at 2003 and 2005 world championships;
  • Cao Lei, weightlifting, gold medalist (set Olympic record) at Beijing 2008 Olympics, and in 2006 and 2007 World Championships;
  • Zhu Minyuan, canoeing, gold medalist in doubles 500m canoeing at 15th Asian Games in 2006;
  • Kong Fantao, taekwondo, gold medalist in 2000 world championships and bronze medalist in 2001 world championships;
  • Li Ting, tennis, gold medalist in women’s doubles in Athens 2004, won more than 20 International Tennis Federation titles and several Women’s Tennis Association titles in women’s doubles;
  • Qian Hong, swimming, bronze medalist at Seoul 1988 Olympics and gold medalist at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics in 100m butterfly;
  • Hu Ni, synchronized swimming, former member of China’s national Synchronized Swimming Team and individual gold medalist at 2000 Asian Swimming Championships.