Taipei Times: You have been helping Yang Chuan-kuang and his family return to Taiwan from the US and get medical treatment for Yang. What can you tell us about him? \nCheng: He is indeed the hero of the Taiwanese people as an international athlete. His keen yet sportsmanlike performance with Rafer Johnson in the decathlon in the 1960 Rome Olympics remains one of the "Hundred Golden Moments" in the history of the Olympic games. Yang and Johnson were trained by the same coach and the entire event was very close. They set records in their competition in Rome and it is a beautiful story. What is even more beautiful is their enduring friendship over all these years. Indeed, I think the beauty of track and field lies in the fact that the rewards an athlete receives correspond to the effort he or she makes. Whether you win or lose is not determined by a judge's score, as is the case with a number of other sports events. Hence, an athlete's achievements solely depend on his or her ability and skill. The journey of life is similar to track and field. The wins and losses are like highs and lows in life. One learns from both and gains experience. What is really important, I think, is to gracefully accept the outcome, whether you win or lose. If an athlete learns this lesson in the stadium, then it may help when faced with it in life. Yang and Johnson once had a fierce rivalry but are now very good friends. I believe Yang enjoys, as many athletes do, not only the honor and respect he has earned through his achievements in track and field, but also the international friendships he has made. \nTT: Despite Yang's early glory in track and field, his life after retirement seems melancholy. Many people in Taiwan had forgotten about him before hearing of his ill health. \nCheng: People often ask me what I think about his practices as a medium (乩童). I look at it from two perspectives. First, this is an ancient practice. There is a huge demand for it in our society; Yang didn't invent it. He regards the practice as a way to help people. Second, I think being a medium involves physical exertion and is similar to sports in this way. \nExercise is good for him, especially at his age. Therefore, I don't think there is anything wrong with what he is doing and would not criticize him for it. Shortly before the 2000 Olympics in September, I threw a party for Yang to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his silver metal win in the Olympics, the first ever for Taiwan. His achievement in Rome was historic and meaningful, and we should not forget it so easily. I invited other Olympic participants to the party and around 100 people showed up. Everyone was pleased they had the opportunity to get together. \nTT: But what happened to Yang after his retirement does not seem to be an isolated case. Many athletes and sports stars in Taiwan do not lead a very happy life after their retirement. How do you view this situation? \nCheng: This is definitely an issue our society needs to take a closer look at. It should be addressed in discussions on how to fulfill the potential of our "outstanding" athletes. That is, these athletes should be given not only the athletic training they need, but also the skills they will need to earn a living after they retire. Many athletes who participate in the Olympics, or even win a gold medal, cannot earn their livings in that sport. The number of athletes who turn pro and earn large salaries is very small. The vast majority lead a normal life. \nWorking skills have long been left out of the process of training an athlete in Taiwan. This can be addressed in two ways. First, athletes should receive a regular education during their training. Vocational training is also very important. This could help them secure a job after they retire. A lack of such measures explains why outstanding athletes say, if they had been offered the choice, they would have chosen to go to a regular university, which would have allowed them to become physical education teachers. Still, today, only a small number of athletes are given a choice. On the other hand, the athletes need to realize that, although they may be among the best in their sport, at work they will still have to climb the ladder of success one step at a time, just like everyone else. I heard that the National Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (NSPFS, 行政院體育委員會) is contemplating training our athletes in an area outside of sports, in a second speciality (第二專長), and I think this is a step in the right direction. \nTT: There is a general impression that the overall sports environment in Taiwan is sometimes overshadowed by the interference of politics. What is your opinion on this matter? \nCheng: When I returned to Taiwan from the US in 1977, I found that the organization and the structure of sports associations were not normalized. One example is, prior to the enforcement of the law for civil organizations (人民團體法), presidents of certain civil sports associations were staying at that post for many years due to a lack of regulation governing their tenure. Another serious problem I've observed is the lack of continuity in policies at the civil sports associations when a new president takes office. This lack of continuity obstructs progress, with new presidents having to start from scratch. The importance of setting up NSPFS is to normalize and institutionalize private and civil associations. Because of this, I think the government's guidance, and even control, is still needed in Taiwan. \nTT: Your success has extended beyond track and field. For example, you ran and were elected in the legislative election in 1980. Can you talk a bit about career planning for athletes? \nCheng: Take Chen I-hsin (陳義信) for example [editor's note: Chen used to be a professional baseball player and has recently decided to run for the legislature in this year's election], I support his decision to run in the election. This has nothing to do with what political party he represents. I support him because of what I know about his athletic career. For instance, he used to hold baseball camps for school children in his hometown of Taitung during the off-season. \nMany of Taiwan's Aboriginees are giften in sports, singing and dancing. Chen I-hsin, A-Mei (張惠妹), Chen Chien-nien(陳建年), and Chi Hsiao-chun (紀曉君) are some salient examples. \nI think society acknowledging their achievements is conducive to and important for their identity as Aboriginals. They are good and encouraging role models for the young Aboriginals in Taiwan. I think Chen's election will help to retain the dignity of the Aboriginal communities. I think Chen is a smart player who thinks about and knows what he wants in life, and he prepares himself and pursues his goals diligently. He knows what his talents and strengths are and tries to make the best use of them. \nIn my mind, true sportsmanship is characterized by perseverance and never giving up. Another important characteristic is independence. They should not always depend on others. That being said, the government should give a hand to the athletes who are in need. After all, many of them did their best representing the country in the stadium at some point in their life.
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