Zhang Huimin – 8 year old Marathon runner

Posted on June 9, 2007 by

We all know the stories of the Indian boy who is running ultra much younger than what he should. Read here

Well today I have read the story of 8 year old Zhang Huimin from china who is being groomed by her father to compete in the 2016 Olympics as a Marathon runner. She has already run a couple of marathons with a best time of three and a half hours.

Here is the full story:

Eight-year-old marathon runner trains with father for 2016 Olympics

Evan Osnos
Chicago Tribune

LINGAO, China — The clock above her bed read 2:24 a.m. — time for the 8-year-old to train for another marathon.

Second-grader Zhang Huimin, who weighs 42 pounds and likes the Little Mermaid, sat up and gave a groggy glance around the one-room home she shares with her father, an out-of-work fish farmer with a singular goal: grooming his daughter for the 2016 Olympics.

“Don’t dawdle,” her father said softly, “or you won’t be out the door by 2:55.”

Beijing will host the 2008 Olympics. Huimin is too young for the Beijing Games, but she has already appeared in an Olympic promotion on state television, her first flicker of national fame.

On this Saturday, as she does most weekends, the girl will run more than 26 miles before school — on top of dozens of miles she runs before school each week. Those statistics cry out for skepticism, but watching her run for more than four hours or interviewing marathon officials who recorded her recent races makes it hard to find suspect a hoax.

To her adoring village in southern China, her image — pigtails and arms swinging, her father cycling beside her — embodies strength and sacrifice. But to others just learning her story, she personifies a darker side of China: a culture of competition amplified by a media hungry for celebrities.

The story of China’s youngest marathoner is most likely not about the world’s next great runner; her tiny body is almost certain to give out if she keeps running so much, experts say.

Rather, her story is most revealing about the conditions that created her: a father whose dream of sporting glory never materialized, an impoverished town dazzled by attention and a nation where the power of fame can make anything seem worthwhile.

“It’s good for her,” said Li Kequan, head of the running club in the nearby city of Haikou. “It’s also good for the country and it’s good for Haikou.”

In China, athletic fame holds unique appeal. In a nation of 1.3 billion people that never has enough jobs or university places to go around, sports is a path to success that does not require influence or money.

Among the residents of Lingao is Zhang Jianmin, a small, kindly laborer, 54. He was a standout table-tennis player and runner when he graduated from high school in 1974, but the chaos of the Cultural Revolution stymied his hopes of entering China’s Soviet-style sports schools.

He later found work as a bureaucrat but gave it up to try raising fish. That failed, and today his income comes from an adult son. His wife left years ago, and they have lost contact, he said.

Zhang said he started running with his daughter when she was 4, adding distance each morning. By age 6, she could run 8 miles; at 7, she completed the Haikou marathon in 3 hours, 28 minutes and 45 seconds.

Most recently, she finished China’s Xiamen International Marathon on March 31, with a time of 3 hours, 44 minutes and 51 seconds. Organizers waived the minimum age of 18 and allowed her father to bike beside her because “she is a special case,” said He Xi, vice director of the race.

Zhang is blunt: He has staked everything on his daughter’s running.

“My plan is that we will have a hard five years,” he said, “and then, when she reaches 12 or 13 years old, she could take part in more national competitions. Hopefully, a professional team will take her.”

Ask any health expert about her training regimen, and the answers are similar. “The long-term consequence is that she is going to be injured, and her career is going to be short-lived,” said Dr. Kathy Weber, head of Women’s Sports Medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Overtraining at such a young age can erode the cartilage in joints, delay menstruation, reduce bone density and cause a range of orthopedic problems, including stunted growth. At 42 pounds, Huimin is underweight, her father concedes, but she has never had a full check-up, so he does not know what toll her training has taken.

Until recently, Huimin and her outsize training had gone largely unnoticed. She is too young for China’s sports academies, so coaches say they won’t look seriously at her until she is 13, which explains why her father’s homegrown training has gone unchecked.

Now that Huimin’s story has begun to appear in Olympic promotions, even some of the country’s athletic kingmakers are unnerved.

“I just heard about it recently,” said Feng Shuyong, head coach of China’s national track and field team. “But nobody in this field agrees with that kind of training. We think it’s unimaginable.”

Here is the recent story on Zhang……More

I don’t know what anyone else thinks, but at the very least it’s child cruelty. Children should be enjoying themselves when playing sport and having fun. Not racking up hundreds of kms a week in training to please some obsessive parent who is trying to leave his ambitions through his daughter!

Posted in: China, Marathons