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Will Yu Fen dive to another team?
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Chinese-born coaches are increasingly finding success around the world. From badminton to volleyball, they often end up being major hindrances to China's sports dominance.

Now people are worried well-known Olympic diving coach Yu Fen will join the list after her wish of returning to the national diving team was rejected last weekend by the Swimming Administrative Center (SAC), the sport's governing body.

But Yu, one of China's most successful diving coaches and currently the coach of Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, dismissed the possibility of moving abroad, saying she is confident she will be accepted by the national team again some day.

"I will not change my mind on returning to the national team. I am sure I will stay and will not go abroad to coach another team. If I had such kind of intention, I would have been a coach of an overseas team 10 years ago," she said.

Yu is one of China's most influential diving coaches, having trained four-time Olympic champion Fu Mingxia and reigning world and Olympic champion Guo Jingjing.

But Yu left the national team after the 1996 Atlanta Games amid rumors that she was clashing with current national team manager Zhou Jihong.

Yu refused to accept the SAC's decision since she submitted the application to the State General Administration of Sports, the nation's top sports governing body.

"I am still waiting for the final decision from the State General Administration of Sports," said Yu. "I do not know why the Swimming Administrative Center just made the announcement on a website rather than inform me directly.

"I believe I am still one of the best diving coaches (in China). How come I cannot contribute to the national team for the preparations of the Beijing Olympic Games? I will not give up. I will keep doing my job in Tsinghua University and I believe one day I will be back on the national team."

Yu surprisingly expressed her desire to return two weeks ago on her blog, the first indication she wanted to return since leaving her national team post more than a decade ago.

Her wish was widely supported and welcomed by media and fans, but the SAC's Internet statement seemingly ruled out the possibility.

"After the Athens Olympics, the national team developed very well and achieved great accomplishments in big competitions," said the SAC's statement. "Therefore, the current coaching staff is very well structured and they are absolutely capable of leading the team to win at the Beijing Games.

"Many good coaches from local teams have expressed their intention to join the national team. But we should put the national team's demands into top consideration."

But Yu doubted the statement's credibility, suggesting the national team is short of good coaches.

"As far as I know, the national team has a coach older than 60. He can't even pull the protection belt but he still has the job to coach four important divers," Yu said. "Actually, the coach has never developed an athlete into the national team all by himself. How can they say the coaching team is well structured?"

Stellar career

Yu has a stellar coaching record to back up her confidence.

She coached Li Qing to a springboard silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, following it up by leading 13-year-old Fu to a platform gold at Barcelona 1992 to turn Fu into China's best-ever diver with doubles titles at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Two years after leaving the national team in 1996, Yu single-handedly established a renowned diving club at Tsinghua University.

Yu continued her success at the college level. She helped then-retired Fu rediscover her form and sent her back to the national team to win another Olympic gold at the Sydney Games in 2000. Yu also helped turn a group of student divers into some of the nation's best. They, too, returned to the national team.

Current Olympic hopefuls He Zi, Lin Yue, Zhou Luxin, Wang Xin and Yang Liguang, all highly fancied candidates for Beijing's final lineup, are the quality products of Tsinghua's training system.

"All of them developed from nowhere to top-level world athletes under my coaching. And another two members Guo Jinging and Lao Lishi (both world and Olympic champions) were also my former students. All the facts prove I have the ability to boost the team's chance to sweep goal medals in the Beijing Games," Yu said.

China's university training system has been a topic of hot discussion since it is different from the national team's full-time professional training system, which is frequently blamed for a lack of education among young athletes.

Yu's student divers are not allowed to take part in any major tournaments or Olympic trials because they are not part of the state sports structure, so the best teen divers have to leave school before being admitted to the national team.

But Yu, who once threatened to take her students abroad if the national team continued to exclude them, said the university system is not going against state structure and should be recognized as an important part in developing the sport.

"Sometimes the national team will also meet difficulties. It is of great help to have as many high-level diving teams like Tsinghua University as possible. I hope we will get more supports because it will help keep the sport's long-term development."

(China Daily January 30, 2008)

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