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Interview with Deng Yaping

  • Story Highlights
  • Deng decided to retire at 24 after many injuries over past 19 years
  • She studied at Tsinghua University, Nottingham University, now in Cambridge
  • She recommends people to come and see with their own eyes the real China
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- AR: Yaping, good to have you on Talk Asia this week. Now you're an Olympics legend here in China. You've got four gold medals and also 14 other world championship titles. How does it feel to be hosting the Olympics in your home country?

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Deng Yaping, four-time Olympic Gold medal winner and deputy director of the Olympic Village in Beijing

DY: We expected this for such a long time, over a hundred years. So finally we got the right to hold the Olympic Games. It's such an honor for all of us, especially for the bidding process and the one, I'm very lucky enough to won the representative from the athletes to do the final presentation in Moscow which is so excited. And all of the Chinese people so glad and have such kind of honor we can hold the Olympic Games. China, one fifth of the population in the world, so both for the Olympic movement and the Chinese people, we all need Olympic Games in China.

AR: But we talk so much about, you know, the fact that China is the world's worst polluter now, and also its less than stellar human-rights record. Do you think China is ready to be placed under the international spotlight, as it will be?

DY: I think we as the government try very hard to improve. I think we can see a lot of improvement for those issues, but why we have, why we get the right to hold the Olympic Games, that I think could because a lot of people think the Olympics will be improving, continuously improving such issues.

AR: China attaches huge significance to sporting pursuits and athleticism, sponsors thousands of athletes. Why do you think it's considered such an issue of importance here?

DY: When the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949 and the new government, new country wanted to build new image. I think sports is a very important way to show how friendly, you know, how the way culture and sports. So you can see nowadays, like table tennis, why so popular, why so dominate world table tennis. I want to say that because table tennis, although little sport, is very easy to play and don't need big space and the equipment not expensive. The first champion won by table tennis player, first world champion in China, called Mr. Rong Guotuan in 1959. So that is a milestone. So the Chinese people think we are equal as others so we also can participate in sports and also we can win in the world.

AR: You've said that foreigners don't necessarily always remain objective when they're commentating on China. Where do you think they're getting it wrong?

DY: I think we should through the media, through more people to come and to know more about China, because China has a long time history and long time civilization, but we need to communicate between the people. That is the most important. But while I talked with sports people, especially I just mentioned, over half the IOC members haven't been to China before we got the right and when they come over the first time, and they started to change their minds, started to change their ideas, about the original idea about China. So why is it like that? Sometimes when you go there personally, that would different from when you're only watching TV or media information. I think that is so different. So I think I like to recommend all the people, if you have time, to come and look and to have a see, have a look, use eyes, personal eyes to see what is so real about China.

AR: You've called on the media to tone down its seemingly voracious appetite for China to win gold medals so as to lessen the pressure on the athletes taking part in the Olympics. When you ask that, are you asking from personal experience?

DY: Obviously from my personal view is that for athletes is most important to have a personal goal, a personal achievement. The highest level, the highest achievement in general is Olympics. But most of the athletes, you can't win. Only few athletes can win the Olympic Golds. What about others? I think participation is also important. Because Olympics always have the qualifications before the Olympic Games, so if you are qualified to play in the Olympic Games, that already show you are a great athlete.

BREAK 1

AR: So what's the secret of being really good at this?

DY: Practice.

AR: Keeping it on the table first.

DY: Yeah, that's right.

AR: Do you miss competing?

DY: Sometimes. Especially the athletes, you see, now they're playing well, and I'll think I can play better than them, sometimes. Good, get in there.

AR: You've got a little boy now, right?

DY: Yes.

AR: Has he shown any interest in following in your ping-pong playing footsteps?

DY: Don't know, the racket, but the ball, he really likes it.

AR: If he wanted to play at a professional level, would you encourage him or shake your head?

DY: Not play professionally.

AR: Why wouldn't you want him to get involved? Too hard?

DY: Yeah, too hard, and needs talent.

AR: So what is it about this game that you love so much? Why did you want to get into it?

DY: I think table tennis is a good sport for Chinese people to play, but because there's a lot of techniques and tactics inside. So you need to play, to control. It's a very interesting game, a lot of spins, and it spins very fast.

AR: Yaping is poised and ready for actions and she's going to do a professional serve. And I'm going to attempt to get it back. Watch this. DY: Ready? AR: Yeah. At least I got it back... DY: Next ball will be down to the net. AR: Ok. I can't even see the ball moving when she does that. DY: Fly... The ball will be flying... DY: See? AR: How am I supposed to get it back? This is not going well. DY: Which one do you want? Fly or down? AR: One that I can actually have a chance of returning. DY: No professional service... You can return it.

AR: As you were saying, not many people get an opportunity to win and certainly not a gold medal. You've got four. Most of us will never know what that feels like, so just describe it for us.

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DY: The first time in Barcelona which is I won the first gold in women's doubles, so when you win, you know finally you win the Olympic gold medals and the dreams come true. But you know this is not the final, you should continue. And so you can't totally relax and you have to think the singles how to play. So over 14 years and the dreams come true, the Olympic dream. So you know how emotional and, but most of the time, the most emotional time, in 1996 because I continuously won women's doubles and women's singles, and you have to keep your ability and that high level. You don't know how to express your feeling. But once you stand on the plaque, the podium, in the medal ceremony, you just couldn't control yourself. Over the years, training. So that is the highest point, I think, the emotional time.

AR: You started when you were 9 years old...

DY: When I was 5.

AR: You started when you were 5 years old, you were just a little kid for goodness sake. Whenever we talk about child athletes, the rigorous training that they have to go through is something that is so alien to those of us that had a regular childhood. What was the training regime for you? How hard was it?

DY: My father was my first coach. So I had that advantage for that. So I started to train because I am too short, and the table is here, only one head over the table, I can start to play. To feel is important, to feel the ball, the feeling, to feel the racket, that is important and it lets you interested in the sports. That is also important, so I think beginning is not that hard. Just wanted to get to know about table tennis.

AR: You were winning all these competitions but not allowed to compete with the national team, because they said you were too short. What was that like for you, knowing that they were criticizing you for something that you could do nothing about?

DY: Why join the provincial team? All coaches wouldn't accept it. They think I won't be good in the future, no future at all. So even you win the most of championships in the same age in that province, but you haven't a chance to join the team because they think you won't be good. Which is not fair for me personally, but because table tennis such a strong sport in China and the team coach has so many selections and so many candidates to choose good athletes, you have to show you will be good in the future. But technically you have to show some issues. So I cried through the night, but I want to show, but I don't know if I will be good. But I want to try. So he gave me the chance and I joined the Jiangzhou city team, so I trained so hard every day. Get up at 5:45 and we get together at 6 to run and running for about half hour or 40, but it's harder for me because I'm short and smaller.

AR: Little legs.

DY: Yeah, that's right. It's so hard for me. But when you can't finish that you had to go again. So that is really the hardest time for me during the training.

AR: Tell us how preparations have been going. You're not worrying about any of it?

BREAK 2

AR: All the training did pay off in the end, but when you at the very top of your career you're 24 years old, you decide to pack it all in. A lot of people were surprised you chose then to retire. Why did you make that decision right then?

DY: Yeah, you're right. It is surprised for most people. I think actually the two most important reasons. The first reason, I got a number of injuries since I was 5 till 24 years old. So 19 years of training I got a number of injuries. And I think for the elite athletes, one day you have to retire, whether early or later you have to retire. So I think that is also the reason why I wanted to retire from table tennis and move to next career. So I think it's a good timing to move, and so I went to the Tsinghua University in China and went to Nottingham University and got my master degree and now doing PhD in Cambridge.

AR: We do hear about some sad stories about athletes who have basically retired, they're basically left on the scrapes straight afterwards. Really highlighted recently by the case of Ai Dong Mei? Who's a champion marathon runner and she had to sell her medals so she could feed her family. Just trying to grasp that concept. Put yourself in the position of Ai Dong Mei. What would it mean to you, if you ended up in such a situation where you had to sell your medals?

DY: This case not only in China, this case, this issue all over the world. Yeah, because in the IUC commission, we always have this discussion about retired athletes, how to move, how to have a good transition. Once you wanted to become elite athletes, and from that time, you have to think in one day when you retired what going to do. So you have to think ahead, rather than "Oh, tomorrow I'm retired. What am I going to do?" no, that is too short. Because we have such a special group of people and we play along, we play a competition, national, international, and you only concentrate on sports, so you definitely miss a lot of opportunity to study, to have a high education. But what kind of an advantage do you have? So we have to think about it. For example, in China, lin lin, you know? Probably you know is a very successful businessman. Also he is the Olympic gold winner. But why he can do that?

AR: You've got a great job now as deputy director of the Olympic Village here in Beijing. Tell us how preparations have been going. You're not worried about any of it?

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DY: You know, the worry is useless. You have to work day by day, work piece by piece, and finally you know how will be. So how can you worry about it? So everything is according to the plan. We work and then concentrate to working very hard to the plan, so I think the confidence based on those plans and smoothly going.

AR: Yaping, thank you very much indeed for your time today. And that brings us to the end of this edition of Talk Asia. My guest today has been the four-time Olympic Gold medal winner and the deputy director of the Olympic Village here in Beijing ahead of the 2008 Games, Deng Yaping. I'm Anjali Rao and I'll see you again soon. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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