Height does not translate to might in real world

09:10, February 10, 2010      

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(From left to right) Former national basketball center Zheng Haixia, volleyball spiker Zhao Ruirui and Beijing Ducks center Sun Mingming boast superior height on the court but have suffered a lot from injury as well as inconveniences in daily life. Zhongti

Giants of sport find going tough when they are off the courts

A new sport has developed in China: predicting the size of the child of Yao Ming and his wife, Ye Li.

Since the pregnancy was announced last month, speculation has swirled around the full-grown height of the offspring of the Houston Rockets' All-Star center, who stands 2.26m, and 1.9m Ye.

While the public is happy to set lofty marks, the couple apparently does not want to see its child grow too tall.

Miao Lijie, Ye's former teammate on the women's national basketball squad, said recently: "I've discussed it (the baby's gender) with Ye several times. Given their height, a girl may be too tall, so they would like to have a boy."

However, it was revealed last week the baby is a girl and the couple has some reason to be concerned.

While great height is a tremendous asset on the basketball court, it carries serious liabilities outside the arena in a world which caters to average size people who fit into average-size shoes and beds.

Great height also leads to the greater possibility of stress-related problems; as has been made evident by the spate of injuries suffered by Yao over the past few years.

There is also added pressure on tall women because it is not easy to find a tall boyfriend like Yao and some men are simply intimidated by the height factor.

Standing 1.97m, Zhao Ruirui is probably the tallest Chinese women's volleyball player of the past decade. The Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the 2003 World Cup and a member of the championship team, Zhao enjoys great popularity among fans at home and abroad.

Off the court, she is quiet and gentle, a good cartoon painter and a master of cross-stitch.

However, the 28-year-old remains single while most of her former teammates in the national squad have found romance and some are even expecting babies.

Her height, plus star status, has apparently become a barrier to a serious relationship.

"Being so tall is only good for me on the volleyball court. The newspapers are always keen about love affairs in sports but they never write about me because I'm too tall for most of the guys," she said. "I don't like immature boys but the guys of my age or older are not available."

The volleyball star's plight is shared by Zheng Haixia, the former WNBA player and probably the most famous Chinese women's basketballer of all-time.

Zheng is even taller than Zhao. At 2.04m, the 42-year-old once had a two-year relationship in the early 1990s but has been single since.

"I admit it (finding a boyfriend) is harder for me than other girls. It takes great courage to marry a well-known and tall girl like me," Zheng told China Daily in her spacious duplex apartment in Beijing.

"Wherever a man takes me - to his relatives, his friends or a public place - a lot of people judge us and that puts huge pressure on him."

Special shoes

Her agony of being bigger than her peers started in childhood and, for her, the most difficult part was to find a suitable pair of shoes. Her feet are now size 18.

Born in the countryside of China's central Henan province, Zheng's mother used to make cloth shoes for her.

But she didn't have suitable sneakers until 13, when she was recruited by the Wuhan army team. She didn't have any slipper and went to the bathroom barefoot until a carpenter made her a pair of geta.

Also, it takes longer for her than others to step into and out of her car - she usually settles into the seat while her legs are outside. She then turns right and puts her feet on the accelerator.

Another major problem for tall guys and girls - and not just athletic ones - is beds. It's OK at home. Athletes always have custom-made beds in their dorms but hotels don't often offer that service.

"I hate away games. It's not because of the lack of the support from the home crowd but it means I have to put my feet on chairs the whole night," said 2.36m-tall Sun Mingming, who plays for the Beijing Ducks in the Chinese Basketball Association.

He also hates traveling because he can never fully stretch his legs on buses or airplanes; even when sitting in the front row.

But what bothers him most is that wherever he goes, people never stop making a fuss about his height and, sometimes, in an unpleasant way.

"Today, at the airport, a lady kept laughing at me and asked 'hey, big guy, how tall are you? You are just standing there like a pole!' I really didn't want to speak to her," Sun wrote in his blog on Jan 28.

"There are always people being impolite around me. But I can do nothing to stop that. I've gotten used to it."

Suffering with injury

Apart from inconvenience and confusion in daily life, height also has a higher price - injury.

That doesn't mean other athletes don't get injured but those of greater size appear more vulnerable due to the greater pressure on their legs and feet. Their hearts are also under more strain.

Zheng's career has cost her two pieces of meniscus, a crescent-shaped structure, on her right knee and has left her limping since 2001. She also suffers from chronic back pain which ended her WNBA career in 1998.

Spiker Zhao was dubbed the "glass beauty" by local media due to her vulnerable body. After several fractures, she had a steel pin inserted into her right leg and will have it for the rest of her life.

Yao is another prime example.

He has struggled with injuries since 2005. He was diagnosed with a sprained ankle after Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Rockets' second-round playoff last year and is now recovering after surgery in July.

Public pressure

Apart from injuries, what also hurts is the general public's perception of ultra-tall people.

"Height always gets you more attention from the public and it becomes pressure and motivation as well. It's not all bad," Zheng said.

"But people tend to take your height as natural supremacy on the court. When you make it, they take it for granted. They easily neglect the effort behind the height. When you perform poorly, they say you're too slow or too unwieldy.

"The only way to let others know you are working hard is to work harder, to shoot more accurately than others do," she said.

Averaging 26.4 points, 13.1 rebounds on an astounding 83.5 percent from the field, Zheng was named the MVP of the 1994 Women's World Championships and led the team to the silver medal.

"I just hope fans can be more fair to tall players in the future," Zheng said. "No one gets success easily. Not even the tall."

Source: China Daily
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