After members of the University of Wisconsin campus community praised the success of last year’s inaugural Chinese Champions program, world-class athletes participating in the second round of the program will begin their experience as honorary Badgers on Thursday.

Sixteen Chinese student athletes and one coach arrived in Madison Wednesday to begin their studies at the UW. The student-athletes will attend UW as part of the second consecutive Chinese Champions Program.

Marianne Bird Bear, assistant dean of the International Studies Department, said in an email to The Badger Herald that the athletes are currently graduate students at Beijing Sport University and will study on campus for nine months as non-degree students.

UW kinesiology professor Li Li Ji, who helped develop the Chinese Champions program, said the first round of the program proved mutually beneficial for the Chinese student-athletes and the greater campus community.

He said the athletes, who are considered national heroes in China, praised UW for its academic quality as well as the warm reception they received from the students and staff.

This year’s students will take multiple courses throughout their stay, Li said, including English as a second language, neuroscience, business, American history and American sports.

He said UW has become increasingly appealing to perspective students in China because of the program as well as its international reputation.

“UW is probably the most talked about university in China these days, not only because of the high academic quality but also because of its warm and embracing attitude toward the Chinese athletes,” Li said.

Bear said the students are known around the world for their skills in table tennis, badminton, skiing, swimming, weightlifting, softball, curling, taekwondo, synchronized swimming, judo and wrestling. Many of the athletes have earned world championship and Olympic medals.

Most of the student-athletes have retired from active competition and vary in age from early 20s to early 30s. Many have since become coaches on the national teams for their respective sports.

A welcoming ceremony for the students will be held Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. in the Red Gym, Li added.