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Chinese athletes over the years have won more than 500 Olympic medals, so their country knows plenty about sports. But when China sends 100 college coaches for specialized training this fall, they won't go to Shanghai or Beijing.
They are coming to the University of Utah.
"It's a big deal" to help spread the prestige of the university globally, says state Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who speaks Mandarin and traveled to Shanghai with university officials and two other lawmakers to finalize the deal in November.
The Chinese then announced a $1.4 million grant to send 100 coaches to the U. arriving on Sept. 10 for training in men's and women's basketball, track and field, swimming and cheerleading.
A similar number will go to Arizona State University as part of deal between China and the Pacific 12 athletic conference.
"Utah and Arizona State feature some of the best coaches in all of college sports and will serve as great mentors for the coaches of the leading universities in China," Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a news release when the deal closed.
University of Utah President David Pershing, who also traveled to China for the deal, added, "It is also in line with our vision to create an environment at the University of Utah that fosters the development of our students as global citizens."
The 90-day program will include topics such as coaching strategy, game preparation, film review, practice structure and assistant coach development. It will include off-the-field work in sports psychology, strength training, nutrition, public relations and marketing.
Shen Zhen, vice president of the Federation of University Sports of China, told Pac-12 Networks, "We will learn from our peers and will mix our Chinese methodology, U.S. methodology and find the best way to share the knowledge with our athletes in China."
Mike Hardman, the University of Utah's chief global officer, said the program also allows the U.'s coaches to learn from the Chinese.
He said the Pac-12 paid to send him and several U. officials to China in November to work on the deal, and they did some recruiting and promoting while there.
The university paid to bring Hutchings and Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, and Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo. The latter two are co-chairmen of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
Hutchings said Chinese officials "don't understand an environment where you would do anything without government approval," so the three lawmakers were brought to show that "the state of Utah was aware and supportive of the project."
Otherwise for the Chinese, where all universities are government sponsored, Hutchings said, "If the government wasn't there supporting it, that meant it was some little side deal that may or may not be legitimate."
The university has many reasons to seek to expand its reach in China, said Hardman.
"We recruit new students from China to the main campus. More than 35 percent of our international students come from China. Of course, undergraduates are here for four years and pay full out-of-state tuition," he said. The U. also recruits Chinese students for its Asian campus in Inchon, South Korea.
Studies show that international students bring "north of $100 million a year to the Utah economy," said Hutchings.
He added that the U.'s many graduates in China help build opportunities for other alumni and students in that country, and also build bridges for Utah exports and companies. "A lot of them were really high-level grad students," he said, "so a lot of alumni hold prestigious positions."
Hutchings said the lawmakers and U. officials took advantage of that in their November trip when many alumni were invited to ceremonies, a lunch and the first regular-season U.S. sports league game in China when the Pac-12's University of Washington played Texas in basketball at Mercedes-Benz arena in Shanghai.
Hutchings said Alibaba an online marketer he calls "the Amazon of China" sponsored the basketball game, and its officials talked with them about Utah.
"Their international development guy is a huge fan of Utah snowboarding," he said. "We got to talk a bit about economic development opportunities and the fact that eBay and Adobe are here. It's remarkable sometimes how many doors higher ed opens."
Urquhart said an incident in the meetings shows how much potential China could offer to Utah.
He said he and others told Alibaba officials that Utah has $12 billion in exports a year. They seemed unmoved, so Utah officials repeated the figure.
Urquhart said an Alibaba officials then said, "You know, that's an important number. We had a record day Tuesday of $12 billion in sales."