Gymnast down on his luck ends up on the street

Updated: 2011-07-16 17:57

By Jia Xu (

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A former champion gymnast was chased out of Wangfujing commercial street area by Beijing police after engaging in unauthorized begging and street performance on July 14, the Beijing Times reported.

Zhang Shangwu, a 27-year-old retired gymnast, was recognized by a passerby, who took a picture of him begging and performing before he was soon driven away by a patrolling police.

A passerby posted the shot online, which stoked public interest in the fallen star. Netizens are taking pity on the former gold medal winner, and wonder what led to his now making a living by performing on the street.

He was once a shining gymnastics star at the age of 18, when he won two gold medals at the 2001 Beijing Universiade. His gymnastics career came to a stop in 2003 when he suffered a tendon injury, and failed to be elected to China's gymnastics team for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

In 2007, Zhang gained notorious fame with a series of theft cases.

He was caught stealing athletic equipment worth 30,000 yuan ($4,643) from Beijing Xiannongtan Sports School.He also confessed he had committed about 10 similar thefts because of financial strains.

Zhang was then sentenced a three-year-and-ten-month in prison in 2007

"I have no choice -- no one helps me and school didn't provide me basic living allowances," Zhang said. "In addition, my grandpa was suffering a serious illness and needs money for treatment."

Zhang has since led a down-trodden life, but never caught public attention.

On April 12 this year, Zhang was released after serving his sentence. He found his grandmother died of illness in his hometown in Hebei province. Later, a desperate Zhang sold some silver and gold medals for cash.

"Being a retired gymnast, my 1.51-meter height is a shortcoming," Zhang said. "Nobody believes I can do heavy labor work.” His tendon injury adds another pain during his job-hunting.

Zhang decided then to start begging on the street, and was driven away many times by patrol police. Yet he continues begging.

"Nobody knows how he makes a living in Beijing, but this time, he emerges in another 'ungraceful’ case," the report says.

The post caught the attention of Zhang's former coach Fan Hongbin, who says Zhang's retirement and recent incidents are all caused by "personal reasons," and Fan left no further comments.

Zhang's former gymnastics team member Xing Aowei is calling for public assistance. "Though I don't know further details of Zhang's living, I think begging on the street as a former gymnast, it's a disgraceful thing for China's national sport."

Another report from Beijing News says the Hebei Sports Administration has started an investigation into Zhang's case. A staffer at Hebei Sport Administration disclosed that the National Sports Administration also opened an investigation.

 Gymnast down on his luck ends up on the street

Zhang Shangwu, 27, a former gymnastics champion, performs handstands on Beijing's Wangfujing commercial street on July 14, 2011. Since leaving the sport, he has had a hard time and is now doing street performance to make a living. [Photo/CFP] 

 Gymnast down on his luck ends up on the street

Zhang talks about his tough life experience during an interview with a Beijing Times reporter on July 14, 2011. [Photo/CFP]

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