Yang Yang explains how she went from short track speed skating icon to budding businesswoman – and how that transition has forced her to become more creative
Yang Yang was just 15 years old when, in 1991, she was crowned Chinese national short track speed skating champion in the 3,000m. Her success signalled the start of a hugely successful international career, during which she won China’s first-ever gold medals in the Olympic Winter Games and six overall ISU World Cup titles.
Yang decided that when she retired, she wanted to remain in sport. After graduating in economics from Tsinghua University in 2007, she went on to work with the Organising Committee for the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 – but still had one burning ambition left to fulfil.
“I always thought about maybe having a skating academy – and in 2013, my dream became a reality,” she says now.
The next generation
In 2013, Yang opened the Feiyang Skating Academy in Shanghai. The academy was a dream come true, but Yang soon realised that there was more to the role than she first thought.
“At the beginning, I never thought of it as a business. I just wanted to teach kids how to skate. But once you’ve set up everything, you soon realise it’s not as simple as that. We have two academies, but our goal is 15 academies all over China. It’s not just a simple skating club – it’s become a business.”
Yang draws an interesting comparison between her former life as an athlete and her new career.
“Being an entrepreneur, you have to be very, very creative and very, very passionate. As athletes, we understand the passion, but the creative side can be challenging. We are used to doing what a coach tells us to do, and we usually follow the rules. But as an entrepreneur, you have to be creative. There are many things you’ve never done before and it is a whole new world. You have to be brave.”
Despite having little previous business experience, Yang believes her background as an athlete has helped her deal with the challenges she has faced as an entrepreneur.
“I think to become successful in any field, there is a pattern or a feeling from the experience. As athletes, we work very hard on the track, but there is also some knowledge we have learned through our careers that we can transfer to the business world.
“I don’t mind if some of the decisions that I make are not right – I have to learn from the mistakes. You cannot make the same mistake twice. We have to learn, and that’s how we grow. Being an athlete taught me that.”
Looking to the future
Through her work as an IOC Member and a member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Yang has also taken inspiration from the Athlete Career Programme to launch the Champion Foundation, which has given career development training to more than 1,000 Chinese athletes since 2011. She hopes the scheme will help them transition into their post-sport careers.
“From my experience, making the transition from athlete to normal life is not easy. When you’re an athlete, everything is about you. You have a team around you, and everybody supports you to become a star. It is different as an entrepreneur – but we know that without a team, we cannot do anything.”