Olympic champ paid the price for losing cool

Chinese Olympic table tennis champion Chen Qi says he feels like a "new person" after completing the last set of punishments for losing his temper in an international competition.

The 21-year-old had already made an open apology, was drilled in a military boot camp and handed out an undisclosed amount of fines for his televised tantrum two months ago. He said he soon repented after he flung the ball on the ground and kicked a chair into the air as he lost the Asian Cup final to team-mate Wang Hao in Japan on March 5.

The chain of punishments was suspended as Chen Qi helped the Chinese team defend the world team championship in Bremen, Germany, early this May and team discipline was resumed once he returned.

Chen, 2004 Olympic doubles gold medallist, was sent to do farm work in Pantao village in the northern Hebei Province. After a week of hard labour, Chen said he is now a changed man.

"I am truly sorry for my actions," Chen said on Tuesday. "I should never disgrace the Chinese table tennis team. Working in the fields is a good re-education process for me."

Yet Chen, a prospect groomed for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, is still smart from his Asian Cup loss. "It was the second straight final I lost in a month. That was really frustrating. I was so angry and disappointed at my play that I lost my cool."

On Monday, Chen was seen weeding in a wheat field. He was clumsy with the hoe and wiped forehead sweat with the sleeve of his national team jersey. A throng of curious local farmers and several reporters watched the table tennis star do the work he had never done before.

"On the first day, Chen wasn't able to do anything," said Pantao village chief Wang Haijiang. "But he is very clever and a quick learner.

"Chen had plucked cucumbers, weeded and irrigated the fields, fed pigs and levelled the dirt."

Chen declined autograph requests from locals, saying he was a farmer not a sports star.

Table tennis is the most watched sport in China, and it has won far more Olympic and world titles than any other sport. Therefore, the Chinese national table tennis team is expected to meet the highest standards of personal behaviour.

Chen's team-mate Qiu Yike was banned for a year from the national team for his late-night drinking in February.

In 2004, four national team members were thrown out for dating team-mates and were accused of impeding preparations for the Athens Olympic Games.

"The Chinese table tennis team is the most disciplined team in the world, that's why it has become so strong," said Yang Ying, an athlete-turned-table tennis TV commentator, who had been once suspended from the national team for reporting two hours late after returning from holidays.

Chen Qi won't be the last table tennis player to work in the countryside. Other players will be sent, too, yet for a different reason.

Liu Guoliang, the Chinese men's team head coach, said he is considering sending the whole team for "education."

Source: China Daily

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