The fate of one former gymnastics prodigy has sparked outrage in China, following revelations that he has been reduced to begging on the streets of Beijing. Zhang Shangwu, 28, was sent to a gymnastics academy at age 5, made the national team at age 12, and in 2001 won two gold medals at the World University Games, the Telegraph reports. He was a shoo-in for the 2004 Olympic team, until an Achilles tendon injury forced him to retire—with a government payout of around $6,000.
Zhang had no non-gymnastics education, and thanks to his injury lost even his job as a delivery boy. His grandfather soon had a brain hemorrhage, wiping out Zhang’s savings and forcing him to sell his medals for food. Eventually he turned to theft, got arrested, and was released from jail this April. Since then, he’s been begging and sleeping in internet cafes. Critics say his plight is indicative of flaws in China’s national sports system. “With a world champion descending into such a life, who would want to be a gymnast in the future?” one former teammate asks.