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|62110378-4675-455c-a37d-8ceb9d374fc0 At the World Snooker College in China's capital Shaquille O'Neal Lakers Jersey , there are no textbooks or exams, just rows upon rows of snooker tables and an ever-growing trophy case.
Clad in T-shirts and baggy sweatpants, the lanky teenage students at the Beijing boarding school - the first of its kind in China - practice snooker eight hours a day in the hopes of following in the footsteps of their idol Ding Junhui.
Ding, a 30-year-old native of East China's Jiangsu Province, won two ranking titles at the precocious age of 18, and became the most successful Asian player in history last year after making it to the final of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield, England.
Despite many expecting him to again reach the final this year, he was knocked out at the semifinal stage by England's Mark Selby, the eventual champion, in a close match on April 29.
"Of course I'm disappointed," said student Wu Ze, 16, idly swinging his cue.
"[The World Championship] was such a good opportunity to realize his dreams."
No Chinese player has yet won the world title but Ding reached last year's final before losing to Selby.
Ding's dreams are entwined with those of China, where he is considered a national hero among the 70 million people - and counting - estimated to play billiard sports.
"A lot of parents want their kids to learn the sport after seeing Ding on TV," said Wei Chunlong, a manager of the World Snooker College.
An offshoot of the Chinese Billiards and Snooker Association (CBSA), the academy's 24 students hail from across China and are foregoing traditional schooling.
Instead of school desks, their two classrooms have snooker tables and instead of regular teachers, they have four coaches. In place of exams, they have competitions.
Xu Shi, 19, will move to Sheffield at the end of May to join the four students who have gone on to play professionally since the academy opened in 2013.
"I only feel tired after I put down my cue," Xu said.
"I've never considered being anything other than a snooker player."
Ding shot to snooker stardom in 2002, when he triumphed at the World Under-21 Championship.
Three years later, he won his first ranking title at the China Open, delighting a burgeoning fan base in Beijing.
With his rise came the rise of snooker in China: The number of cue sport players in the country increased by 40 percent between 2005 and 2014, according to the CBSA. By 2012, half of the world's highest-level snooker competitions were being hosted in China.
"Ding's success not only spurred the rapid expansion of snooker clubs, but also drove vast numbers of young people to the sport," said CBSA Secretary-General Wang Tao.
Wang said these aspirants particularly admire the dogged determination and sacrifice - Ding's family reportedly sold their house and grocery store to launch his career - that brought a "boy with Chinese roots" to Britain's hallowed Crucible Theatre, the perennial stage for the World Snooker Championship.
Though he spends most of his time training in Britain, Ding is well aware of his Chinese following, and even goes by the nickname "Dragon."
"They will be going crazy back home for this," he said ahead of the final last year.
"I know that they want me to do well, to win it and bring the trophy back home."
'A gentleman's sport'
Snooker is the most "skill-based" of the billiard sports, said Jing Ferguson, senior operations manager of World Snooker in China.
"It's considered an elite sport here because it teaches people good manners," she said.
"In our sport, when a player makes a foul, he will admit it instead of -pretending that nothing happened."
Believed to be invented by British Army officers stationed in India in the 19th century, snooker is played with 22 balls on a green "baize," with the goal of accumulating points by potting balls in a sequence.
"No game is the same," Wei said. "You have to analyze every step - it's a very intelligent sport."
The "gentleman's sport," as Ferguson put it, has become a favorite with both parents and investors looking to cash in on snooker's growing popularity in China.
There had been talk of Chinese snooker bosses wanting to stage the World Snooker Championship in an exact replica of the Crucible, but these proposals have been shelved now that the event is remaining in Sheffield for another 10 years.
"The game has grown so huge in China it's inevitable they were going to make an approach, and someone else might have taken the easy route and just taken the money," World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn said at the World Snooker Championship last month.
"My message to the Chinese was to 'build your own, create your own history, you can't buy history.'"
A large part of that history depends on the World Snooker College and its graduates.
"I can't go a day without playing snooker," said Wu, who aims to go pro in a couple of years.
"I want to be as focused as Ding."
HAVANA， July 4 (Xinhua) -- The number of Cuban athletes set to participate in the Rio Olympics has risen to 110 in 17 disciplines， said the National Institution for Sports， Physical Education and Recreation (Inder) on Monday in Havana.
Inder's vice president， Jorge Polo， said 80 are men and 30 are women. The athletes are mainly concentrated in athletics with 31 participants， followed by boxing and wrestling - both with 10， judo with nine， rowing and shooting with seven and canoeing with six competitors.
Polo highlighted that the Caribbean nation could obtain more places in the upcoming qualifying events for diving， swimming， athletics and women's beach volleyball.
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