The outside world spilled in through the gates every morning, when the street sellers pushed a few carts onto the edge of the campus. Decked out in their national team jackets, the skaters walked the two hundred yards from the dorm to the practice rink and caught a whiff of hot coals, sweet buns, meat on a stick. But no skater ever slapped a coin on the counter and ordered a hot doughnut. The skaters weighed in three times a week, and if Yao Bin's girls gained even a quarter pound, he punished them.
Only once had Shen Xue failed one of Yao's weigh-ins. During one of her parents' rare visits to Beijing she had drunk two bottles of Coca-Cola, and she found herself half a pound overweight on the day of the weigh-in. Automatically she received the standard punishment: For three days she had to stop eating with the team and go to a separate cafeteria where the sport administrators ate. "Normally athletes try to avoid being noticed by the leaders," Shen Xue explains. "But when you go to the other cafeteria, all of the leaders take their meals there. When they see an athlete there, they will ask, 'Well, what? Are you overweight?' It's nothing less than a press conference."
Humiliated in front of the leaders, Shen Xue could hardly swallow her food, and she quickly dropped the weight. From that day on she never went over her allotted hundred pounds again. Her discipline was more ferocious than her hunger. Sometimes a skater's mother came to the dorm in the afternoon with a bag of roasted corn, or a dish of meat or fish cooked at home. But when the skaters shared the dish, Shen Xue took only enough to be polite. Whenever she reached for the tongs on the athlete's buffet, no matter how her stomach ached, she measured out her food precisely. The most conspicuous object in her room was a scale.