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Sijie Yang, Yue Zhao, and Guohong Niu stood on the podium. They were the champion, second, and third place, respectively. With a gold and bronze medal in hand, Tsinghua University had become the sprinting overlord amongst the universities, which drew many envious eyes.
However, Dai Li now had a lot on his mind. He felt sorry for Yue Zhao, and sympathized with him. After being diagnosed with bone cancer, Yue Zhao had been in dire need of care and help, but the national team had abandoned him relentlessly.
Yue Zhao was twenty-three then; he should have been entering the peak of his career at the time; however, a misdiagnosis had caused him to lose three years. When he finally returned to the track, the peak of his professional career had already left him.
It was too cruel! Dai Li lowered his eyes silently, not wanting to look at Yue Zhao on the podium. After all, Dai Li had studied with the national team for such a long a time; the sense of honor he possessed in his heart prevented him from believing Yue Zhao's experience was true.
In real life, similar cases were quite common. News about former champions with radical headlines were abundant; "one former champion sold braised foods,""former champion acted as gatekeeper," and other similar headlines. could often be found on the internet. Some of them were even propagated by the media as examples of ceaseless self-improvement.
To Dai Li, these news report were more like moaning and groaning without actually being ill. Retirement was more like a disaster for most athletes. Domestic athletes began their training during childhood, so they had no other professional skills except for their athletic techniques. Therefore, for these athletes, retirement meant losing everything.
It was especially bad for athletes who had to find their own ways of providing for themselves after retirement, as they had no educational background or professional skills; they had nothing except for their strong limbs. Their retirement stipend, which was only tens of thousands yuan, was only enough money to start with. Outside of being a merchant, what else could they do?
In comparison, Yue Zhao was even more unlucky. He had lost everything as an athlete, and all he had gotten in return was a large debt he had to repay.
Yue Zhao had gotten sick by himself, so the responsibility could not be attributed to the national team; but Dai Li could understand how Yue Zhao felt. What a helpless person wants most is the care and encouragement from others; but Yue Zhao had been forced to retire upon receiving the news about his leg. It was natural for him to have all these negative emotions towards the national team.
Dai Li felt like he should inform Li Xue of this issue.
Dai Li dialed Li Xue's cell phone.
"Dai Li, how are your trainees doing in the University Games? Did any of them win a championship?" Li Xue asked.
"We won the championship and third place," Dai Li replied.
"That's pretty good. You didn't disgrace me or the national team. Keep trying!" Li Xue continued, "You are not calling me just to inform me of your championship, right?"
"Do you remember an athlete named Yue Zhao?" Dai Li asked.
"Yue Zhao!" Li Xue could be heard sighing on the other end of the line. "He is a pretty good young athlete with potential. His ability is very good. He had the potential to be a top-notch sprinter. It is a pity that he had bone cancer and had to have his leg amputated. Did you see him in Wanzhou?"
"Yes," Dai Li said immediately.
"How is he? Is he in a wheelchair or using an artificial leg? His cancer didn't spread, right?" Li Xue asked eagerly.
Dai Li was very surprised. According to Yue Zhao's story, the national team should have been ruthless about the situation. However, he could sense the heartfelt concern in Li Xue's tone.
"Yue Zhao is not in a wheelchair or using an artificial leg," Dai Li continued, "Just now I said that we got first and third place; second place belongs to Yue Zhao!"
"What? Is his leg strong enough to support his career?" Li Xue could not believe what he was hearing.
"His bone cancer was a misdiagnosis…" Dai Li retold the story Yue Zhao had told him, including his application for treatment funds being rejected, the fact that he had been forced to retire, and his treatment in the United States.
"He has indeed had a hard life." With a long sigh, Li Xue fell silent.
Dai Li said, "Coach, in my opinion, the national team should have helped Yue Zhao. It was unreasonable to force him to retire!"
"I knew you would say that!" Li Xue explained, "When Yue Zhao was diagnosed with bone cancer, I helped him apply for treatment funds; but my application was not approved by my superiors."
"It was because the bone cancer had not been caused by the training and competitions, right?" Dai Li asked.
"That was one of the reasons for their rejection. The main reason was that the superiors didn't want to spend the money. They felt it was a waste of money. Cancer treatment costs a lot of money. The doctor had said it would be almost impossible to cure Yue Zhao's cancer with conservative treatment, and that amputation was the only way to save his life," Li Xue said.
"Yue Zhao also said that once he was healed, he couldn't be an athlete anymore. He was useless, so it was not necessary to give him any treatment," Dai Li said angrily.
"Our funds were quite limited then. As the saying goes, the best steel should be used to create the knife's edge. We spent over one million yuan to treat Yue Zhao's bone cancer, which had its consequences; the same money could have helped over ten injured athletes return to the field."
Li Xue took a deep breath and said, "Results are the key factor in the sports industry. Good results bring us more financial support, which helps the training teams survive. There can only be one champion, so sacrifice is inevitable. I have been acting as a coach for many years, and I have witnessed too many situations like this. Sometimes I even feel that this industry is even more cruel than the African Savannah, where the rules of the jungle prevails."
Dai Li opened his mouth, but said nothing. This was how competitive sports worked. The winner was the "king," but the loser didn't have the opportunity to be an ordinary person. It was applicable to athletes in the entire sports industry.
Li Xue continued, "Our application for the treatment funds was rejected. Yue Zhao's mother then came to the team and met with the head coach and me. She asked us to force Yue Zhao to retire."
"Wasn't Yue Zhao forced to retire by the national team?" Dai Li had not expected a 180-degree change like this.
"How could we be that unreasonable? After all, Yue Zhao was one of us, part of the national team. Even if he had bone cancer, we couldn't force him to retire!" Li Xue continued, "His mother urged us to do it; she didn't want him to be an athlete anymore."
"Didn't Yue Zhao know about this?" Dai Li asked.
"Yue Zhao didn't know about his mother's visit. His mother sincerely requested us to keep it a secret for her. Yue Zhao's mother knew he was unwilling to retire. Therefore, we fulfilled the retirement formalities for Yue Zhao according to his family's request," Li Xue said.
It seems like the national team took the blame for Yue Zhao's retirement for his parents. As he thought of it, Dai Li asked, "Why? Why did Yue Zhao's mother do this?"
"Maybe his mother thought being an athlete was too hard for Yue Zhao." Li Xue sighed deeply. "All parents on this planet love their children wholeheartedly."
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