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China's women fighting for gold
Huey Fern Tay reports on the bid for Olympic glory for China's female boxers.

China is not just racing towards economic superpower status, it is now also a real force in world sport.

At the Beijing Olympics Chinese athletes won more gold medals than any other nation. Come July in London, China wants to do it all again.

And along the way, the hoping to sweep the medals in a sport being contested by women at the Olympics for the first time.

China correspondent, Huey Fern Tay, reports.
HUEY FERN TAY, REPORTER: They train beneath banners encouraging them to reach for the stars. Eight hours a day, six days a week at an elite state run sports academy that has produced some of China's best known athletes.

Like the champions forged here in the past, these athletes are dreaming of Olympic gold in a sport where women have never been allowed before.

TANG ERMIN, COACH (Translation): We're a young team, we only formed our team in January 2010. It is hardly been two years. Our team is very young and our members come from all over China.

HUEY FERN TAY: Ever since women's boxing was made a full medal Olympic sport in 2009, provinces around China have scrambled to form their own teams by head hunting all over the country.

Girls with potential are then brought to sports schools like this one where they are paid to box.

SHAN PENLING, BOXER (Translation): My parents objected initially because they were worried I'd get injured.

HUEY FERN TAY: But the blows will be worth it if they can graduate from here to China's national team.

Twenty-two-year-old Xie Lili left judo to pursue boxing. She's now the current national champion in her weight division.

XIE LILI, BOXER (Translation): I've always enjoyed fighting and doing these challenging things, even from a very young age. It's not that a often get into fights. I've always been in good shape and have represented my school in various sports. And then I became exposed to boxing and through to like it.

HUEY FERN TAY: The week we're there a group of female boxers from Australia are in town for a round of training with the Chinese.

MARK GRECH, COACH: In every aspect, you know, in what we - in the training we've conducted so far, they're always pushing themselves, you know, to the next level to try and be better than the person standing next to them, for sure.

HUEY FERN TAY: Boxing was deemed too western and violent by Mao Zedong. But it's enjoyed a resurgence since the ban was lifted two decades ago. Now it's become the darling of sports authorities here because of the sheer number of Olympic medals to be won. 13 in total.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics China won 51 gold medals, the most by any country. But winning medals away from home will be tougher and the pressure is on China's athletes to improve on their medal haul in London this year.

TANG ERMIN (Translation): These girls who we're training have a passion for boxing. In the past, these girls didn't have an opportunity to participate. They could only watch the boys fight. They're very focused on the sport now because they've been given the chance to become a boxer.

(Sample scenes from 'China Heavyweight', directed by Yung Chang, play)

HUEY FERN TAY: Around the world, boxing has been used by some as an opportunity to escape poverty. In rural China that's how the sport has been pitched.

This documentary, which has just premiered at this year's Sundance Festival, follows a few state booking coaches who venture into the remote hills of China's provinces in search of the stars of the future.

(Footage from documentary plays)

The Olympic dream is frequently invoked by the talent scouts as they persuade parents to allow their children to take up the sport.

But to this community of tobacco farmers boxing itself is a big unknown, says the film's producer Peter Wintonick.

PETER WINTONICK, PRODUCER: They don't know what boxing is about. There's not that much boxing, professional boxing at least on television in Chinese sports TV. It's coming and that's changing as well.

What they do know, they know it's kind of a violent sport. But the girls, I think, they probably know less. They know it is an opportunity.

HUEY FERN TAY: An opportunity that's fleeting at best. For the women dreaming of Olympic glory the clock is ticking fast. Not just because London is only around the corner, 34 is the cut off age for Olympic women's boxing.

But the coach of the women here believes that by 28 their bodies will be too old for the sport. Those who started late in the sport practice like they're making up for lost time. At least one of them has begun to think about what she'll do when the inevitable comes.

XIE LILI (Translation): I'm one of the oldest here. When I leave the sport I can start a gym or comeback here in my own time to continue practising with the coaches.

HUEY FERN TAY: For now, all eyes are set on the Nationals in May. Those who make the cut will have the games in London to work towards. Those who don't, can hang up their gloves or take it on the chin and box on for Brazil.
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