By YI WU
AAP staff intern
MINNEAPOLIS (October 12, 2010) – In August 2009, the University of Minnesota welcomed Wenbo Chen, one of the world’s most respected and accomplished diving coaches, in the university’s quest to build one of the strongest teams in the collegiate diving world.
“I am planning to train the diving team into the nation’s best in 5 to 7 years,” Chen says, in terms of his affluence coaching experience, impact in American diving field and the excellent facilities in the University of Minnesota.
Chen first gained his fame by serving as a national team coach in China from 1983 to 1991 and trained six Olympic medalists, including two-time gold medalists Ni Xiong and Ming Gao. After that, he immigrated to America to coach several diving clubs including a stint in Canada at the Edmonton Diving Club, before a four head coaching job at Purdue University.
The U.S. National Diving Team took on Chen as its coach in 2005. He also served as associate director of Team USA Diving’s National Training Center and was named an assistant coach for the 2008 Olympic Diving Team.
During his coaching time in America, Chen has guided 15 senior national champions, 12 junior national champions, two world cup medalists and three Olympians. When he finished with his Olympic team coaching, the University of Minnesota sent Chen an invitation.
Chen said he really enjoyed his experience working with college athletes at Purdue University, and thought that the U of M had everything he needed to make a national champion diving team and he accepted the job in April 2009.
The first-year achievements alone prove the value of Chen’s contributions. He was named the Big Ten Diving Coach of the year for 2010. Looking back at all of his accomplishments, Chen says that only hard work will continue to pay off with more success.
Some of that began this past year when four-time Team USA member and Olympian Kelci Bryant, who trained under Chen, transferred to the UM. She has since become only the second Gopher ever to win an NCAA title when she won the 3-meter event.
Based on his rich coaching experience in both America and China, Chen said he thinks that diving is not an Asian dominated sport. He said Asian divers are dexterous and good at understanding diving actions. At the same time he said the American divers have more strength, which is also essential for good diving technique.
The Chinese divers have emerged as champions in international competition in large part because of its concentrated sport system, said Chen. The government pays for almost everything and gives strong support to the athletes to help them focus on their training.
Chen said it is easier to conduct his coaching plan with Chinese athletes because the athletes have nothing to distract them from their training – the coach has their attention most of the time.
“The Chinese system is the best for achieving better sports outcomes while American’s is much more humanized,” he said.
There is a tradeoff that is acceptable to some and not others. The Chinese athletes work on becoming champions at the expense of other scholastic or vocational pursuits. American athletes have to balance training with other pursuits but come out of college more prepared for life outside of sports.
“I would not have my children be athletes if I were in China,” Chen adds.
The American system is very different but after more than 18 years of coaching in here, Chen said he has overcome the barriers to training American divers effectively. Here, he said the coach must try their best to keep the athletes interested to continue training, in part because they pay the coaches.
“If they do not feel happy, they can quit any time,” Chen said.
Sometimes the coach has to follow the will of the diver. For example, he said that sometimes an inexperienced diver wants to learn a dive before they are ready. He might oblige them just to show them that it takes a lot of hard work to improve abilities and to advance. This is fun, but Chen said it does slow the training process.