When Cheng Fei became a star, stories began surfacing about the way her father, Cheng Ligao, had trained her as a young child. Reportedly, Mr. Cheng used to drill her like a soldier, letting her follow him and shouting, "One, two, one, two..."
It appears now that he did more than that. According to this Sina article, Mr. Cheng often accompanied his daughter to the gym, where he soon developed an eye for what she was doing. He also built her an impromptu gym in the house, and at night helped her to do the things with which he knew she had struggled during her workouts, thus effectively becoming her private coach (although he didn't actually hold a coaching degree). Later, when Cheng Fei was enrolled in the national sports program at the far-away Wuhan Institute of Physical Education, her father would often visit her, watching her train for hours on end.
Now he's been granted an opportunity to put all that passive experience into practice. After watching his daughter train for 17 years, 45-year-old Cheng Ligao has become a coach at his daughter's former club, the Wuhan Institute of Physical Education.
"Old Cheng came to the gym almost every month, wanting to help some young kids out with their basics," said Zhao Hanhua, the club's head coach. "After the Beijing Olympics, there was a tremendous increase in the number of kids practicing gymnastics. There weren't enough qualified coaches, so we invited Old Cheng to become a coach."
Cheng Fei in Beijing (photo: Getty Images)
On October 18, 2008, Mr. Cheng received a Level 1 coaching diploma. For 元3000 ($440) per month, Cheng Fei's father will teach small kids the basics of the sport in which his daughter became a star, at a club which has a huge poster of his daughter on the wall to inspire younger gymnasts.
"I've been given a rare opportunity to become a gymnastics coach," said Mr. Cheng. "I've watched my daughter train for a long time. I couldn't just leave gymnastics."
We'll be interested to see the next generation of gymnasts to come out of Wuhan.