Chinese Olympians have always been conditioned to shine under the spotlight－a quality they learn and hone during years of fierce competition in their athletic prime. But when it comes to something as profound as advising on the country's proper path of development, many of them remain rookies.
While only constituting a small group among the more than 2,000 members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference now meeting in Beijing, the current and retired athletes readily stand out from the crowd due to their star status and physical achievements.[Special coverage]
Every year, before the opening meeting, the Great Hall of the People is packed with reporters raising cameras, voice recorders and other multimedia gadgets as they crane their necks in the hope of catching a glimpse of athlete advisers, such as basketball legend Yao Ming.
Every time Yao appears at the hall, the horde of photographers surges forward to capture the towering frame of literally the tallest political adviser in the country. This year is no exception.
But in contrast to their mighty performances on fields and courts of play, their effectiveness as a group while participating in panel discussions during the two sessions has been comparatively weak.
This reflects their relative lack of understanding regarding pressing issues of societal development after being essentially isolated from the everyday world during their years of competition.
I don't mean to suggest they lack sufficient appreciation and gratitude for the chances they are given to fulfill political duties. They are, in fact, generally quite keen to participate in meetings and consider it a high honor to take part, with most taking the task as seriously as they did their athletic contests.
Despite his busy schedule, Yao hasn't missed any of the annual sessions since joining the CPPCC National Committee in 2013. His specific suggestion to introduce more separation between government and sports in the country became part of a State Council regulation issued in 2015, and showed that his deep insights into the business were as impressive as his giant stature.
His fellow athlete advisers are truly keen to learn how society works outside of their training camps, but most of their peers may not have such a chance.
Although having grown more confident and open-minded than their predecessors, who were better known for their reticence when facing media back in the 1990s, many Chinese athletes still remain shy in expressing themselves or striking up conversations compared with their Western counterparts, who usually cut their teeth in collegiate and club sports systems.
As China vows to build a world-leading sports regime, it's not just about turning its Olympians into medal-bearing troops, but more about nurturing all-around role models in an open, modern and inclusive talent-cultivating system.
As former International Olympic Committee member and two-time Olympic champion speed skater Yang Yang pointed out, skills outside an athlete's sporting skills decide how far he or she develops in the post-sports portion of life.
After all, the celebrity buzz will eventually fade away one day, and then real-world concerns will take over.