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Sun Yang’s mother hammers home the point that parenting elite sports stars needs a little crazy

  • Swimmer and security guard smashed blood vials at mother’s request, according to reports
  • Tennis prodigy Wu Yibing splits with coach and trainer calls out teen’s mother on Twitter
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2019, 3:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 February, 2019, 6:53pm

It’s been quite the week for the parents of Chinese athletes, with a couple of hammer blows to their reputations.

Sun Yang’s mother, Yang Ming, has been pushed front and centre in the swimmer’s bizarre doping scandal.

Reports emerging from the Fina investigation into the swimmer’s unusual behaviour at a late night out-of-competition test at his home last September suggest that it was his mother who led the strangest of Sun’s decisions.

Yang is the one who ordered a security guard to bring a hammer into the room acting as a doping control station where vials of her son’s blood were already stashed in a secure box.

Sun’s security guard failed to break into the container and Yang then told him to take the box outside, where the guard and Sun got it open, took out the vials and smashed them with said hammer.

It’s a sordid episode for a national hero and proof that nothing good happens after 2am. It’s also made headline news around the world. And it seems even more bizarre because Yang is a sports coach.

At least 19-year-old Wu Yibing has the excuse of being a teenager.

China’s great hope in men’s tennis – he announced himself with a win at the boys’ US Open in 2017, which put him top of the junior rankings – has split with coach Sven Groeneveld, the Dutchman announced on Twitter.

Groeneveld thanked the player for a great eight months that saw him win silver at the Asian Games in Jakarta and take a set off Kei Nishikori at the Shanghai Masters. He also appeared to blame Wu’s mother, saying: “He has a right to have a coach whose views are better aligned with his mother.”

The Dutchman, who coached Maria Sharapova for four years before signing up with the Chinese wonderkid, has been criticised for the way he announced the split.

Judy Murray was first to respond, writing “Ooof those pesky mums x” in reply to the coach’s tweet. The mother of Andy and Jamie Murray was central to the success of both her sons but also ruffled feathers along the way.

Why China tennis teen Wu Yibing has what it takes to make a Li Na-style impact

Pushy parents in tennis are nothing new. As far back as 1991 the Los Angeles Times wrote about the treatment of teenage US Open winner Jennifer Capriati and Michael Chang by their parents. Chang, who won the 1989 French Open as a 17-year-old to become the youngest male grand slam winner, was embarrassed by his mother in front of US Junior Davis Cup teammates when she reached into his shorts and declared them “wet” after he idled on getting a shower. Chang got in that shower pretty quickly.

Maybe a certain kind of crazy is necessary for success.

Former US tennis junior-turned-author Huan Hsu argued just that in a Slate article in 2009, saying it is “crazy tennis parents” not systems that make champions – and it is a point that could be argued for any individual sport, if not all sports.

The extent of the crazy has varied but from Roger Williams to Damir Dokic to even Judy Murray. Heck, that’s something Groeneveld should know first-hand from working with Sharapova. Her father, Yuri Sharapov, is a man who has a reputation on a tour chock full of mad parents.

Edie Thys Morgan, a two-time Olympian in alpine skiing and columnist on parenting for The New York Times, wrote “Does It Take a Tiger Mom to Raise an Olympian?” in the aftermath of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.

Morgan thought not, but whatever you call the phenomenon, it is arguably an inbuilt part of sports success.

In the book, Chua laid out the seven differences between the American sports parent and the Chinese mother. Points six and seven are perhaps the most pertinent: “(6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold.”

A gold medal looks like a distinct possibility in the future of figure skater Alysa Liu, the 13-year-old Californian who shocked skating with a triple axel at the US Championships in Detroit.

As The San Francisco Chronicle explained, her lawyer father Arthur is a single parent to five of whom Alysa is the oldest. He left China for the US in 1989.

Like the other mothers and fathers of elite level juniors, Liu got his daughter started early. There have been lots of early mornings, many miles and more dollars gone into the success so far.

Time will tell on her future – she is not old enough to compete at a world championships but will be 16 by the time the 2022 Winter Olympics roll around and her father talks in terms of winning in Beijing.

Time may also prove Wu’s mother right, and perhaps even Sun’s, but while a little bit of crazy might be needed, maybe put down the hammers.