Physical and mental abuse in Chinese figure skating

Society & Culture

Singaporean skater Jessica Shuran Yu recently detailed the abuse she suffered during training at the hands of overzealous Chinese coaches. Her experience, sadly, is not unique.

Singaporean figure skater Jessica Shuran Yu recently detailed abuse suffered at hands of Chinese coaches during training
Jessica Shuran Yu

Last month, Singaporean figure skater Jessica Shuran Yu (于书然 Yú Shūrán) revealed the levels of abuse she had received during her time training in China.

In a post on Instagram, Yu recounted how the abuse had started at the age of 11 at the hands of her coach during training camps in the country.

Yu, who was born in China but competes for Singapore internationally, describes how her coach would beat her with skate guards for the slightest mistake on the ice.

“On especially bad days, I would get hit more than 10 times in a row until my skin was raw.

“When I was 14 and going through puberty, I started to struggle with my jumps because I was gaining weight. I was called over and kicked on the bone of my shin with a toe-pick of a blade and made to try again. I wasn’t allowed to limp or cry.

“Most of the time, such abuse happened in front of other skaters in the rink. I didn’t tell any of my friends, adults at school or my federation because I was incredibly humiliated. I was made to feel so small. It was dehumanizing.”

The abuse that Yu, who turns 20 tomorrow, described is commonplace at the sharp end of the figure skating world in China.

I spoke to Mei (name changed at Mei’s request), a former Chinese junior figure skater, about the abuse she and her teammates suffered as they grew up in the high-pressure environment of Chinese figure skating.

“I saw what (Yu) said after a skating friend sent me an article,” Mei said. “We both were like, ‘If only we could say the same.’ But while I was skating, I didn’t know it could be any other way. The training and shouting I mean.

“I skated my whole life. My aim when I was young was to go to the Olympics and the World Championships, so I just accepted everything the coaches asked of me and did to me. Shouting, swearing, and sometimes hitting were just part of it.”

Mei also opened up on one particular incident that changed her entire outlook on her future in the sport: “It was hard for me; I remember when I was 15 and I was training with my partner for a tournament that was soon. I remember we were trying a new routine that was very hard for both of us to master. We both had an intense sequence to perform together which was followed by a death spiral, but my partner kept losing his balance and form during the spiral because he was carrying too much speed at the start of the move — this was still a new sequence for us so we were both trying to work it out.

“But anyway, he fell over during one go and I hit my head on the ice. Before I could understand what was happening, my coach was standing over me, screaming at me and blaming me for the mistake. I remember lying there feeling my soul getting crushed for something that was not my fault.

“He was saying I was too fat and too heavy and that I didn’t work hard enough or didn’t care. It broke me. It was a 50-year-old man standing over me swearing at a 15-year-old girl for a mistake that was not my fault. I thought he could’ve killed me then, I was so scared that I just lay there looking up at him. I still remember the spit coming out of his mouth.

“That was the first time I had been yelled at like that; it happened nearly every time, but this was the time I was most scared. It was always the girls that got shouted at. Never the boys. This time it was me and not my partner, even though it was his mistake.

“After that moment, my love for skating was lost. I felt injustice, I felt just embarrassed. It crushed me. The love I had once felt as a young girl watching it on the television was gone. I continued to skate after that. I think at that time I could’ve made it to top or maybe to the top in China, but after that day I stopped caring.

“I would go to training because my parents expected me to do it. I didn’t want to disappoint them because they were so proud of their daughter. But about a year or two after, I stopped skating. I told my parents that I was not good enough and that it would be best for me to focus on the gaokao (national college entrance exam). I had to find peace by studying for the gaokao. I think it tells you about the stress I had been put under that I had to get away from it by studying for the most stressful part of a school kid’s life.”


Jeremy Lin’s 26 points leads Beijing Ducks to the semifinals; Guangdong’s Yi Jianlian suffers leg injury

The Beijing Ducks defeated Fujian Sturgeons 107-75 on Sunday to secure a place in the semifinals of the CBA playoffs.

Led by Jeremy Lin, Ekpe Udoh, and Fāng Shuò 方硕, the Ducks romped, and now will prepare for a mouthwatering clash against the Guangdong Southern Tigers, who haven’t lost since December 15, 2019.

The Southern Tigers finished the regular season on a 30-game winning streak, and just won its quarterfinals game against the Qingdao Eagles with ease, 110-88.

But Guangdong may now be without its best player, Yì Jiànlián 易建联. In the fourth quarter of a game well in hand, Yi limped off the court with a leg injury, and is now questionable for the next round.

On the other side of the bracket, Xinjiang just beat the Stephon Marbury-coached Beijing Royal Fighters 103-91 to advance to the semis, where it will face the winner of the Liaoning-Zhejiang contest set to tip off later tonight. (UPDATE: It’ll be Liaoning, which won 127-123.)


CSL player tests positive for COVID-19

Henan Christian Bassogog

The Guangzhou Municipal Health Commission revealed on Thursday that Henan Jianye star winger Christian Bassogog has tested positive for COVID-19.

The Cameroonian international arrived in China for the start of the delayed CSL on July 15, and during his time in mandatory isolation, the player returned a positive test.

Bassogog has now been moved to a hospital in Guangzhou for treatment.

The 24-year-old is not the first Chinese Super League player to catch the virus. Shandong midfielder Marouane Fellaini returned a positive test a couple of months ago, but the Belgian is doing just fine now, as his three goals in seven minutes last week will attest.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.