The 2012 Olympics have just begun, and the rivalry between the United States and China is heating up fast. The Chinese men's gymnastics team won big, and weightlifter Li Xueying took home gold, as did Ye Shiwen -- the 16-year-old swimmer who has been accused of doping to improve her performance. The United States has plenty to brag about as well: Swimmer Michael Phelps won gold this week, making him the most decorated Olympian ever, and the women's gymnastics team brought home its first gold medal since 1996.
With the race to national glory neck-and-neck, Foreign Policy decided to take a look at how China prepares its champions. In a country where promising athletes start dedicated training regimens at very young ages, Chinese competitors are often even younger than you might think. Children are monitored for signs of talent: As Ye, the 16-year-old gold medalist in this year's 400-meter swimming medley, explained to the Guardian, she started swimming at age 6 because her "teacher spotted she had big hands." Here, we take a look at the type of training Chinese athletes receive before making it to the international stage.
Above, a young Chinese gymnast trains at a special sports school in Hefei, Anhui province, on April 7, 2012. Potential gymnasts embark on a grueling schedule, with schooling and family taking a back seat to eight hours of training, six days a week. Quitting the rigid system, in which the state has invested more than $4.5 billion, is difficult.