Liu clears hurdles to finally face the hurdles

Updated: 2012-08-07 03:12:25

By Chen Xiangfeng in London ( China Daily)

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"On your marks ... get set ... go!" The nation has been waiting four years to hear the Olympic starting gun for star hurdler Liu Xiang.

If all goes to plan, the track icon will run the 110m Olympic hurdles final after negotiating the heats on Tuesday and the semifinal on Wednesday before the Olympic final later that day.

It is an auspicious day as it marks four years since the Beijing Games opened in 2008.

Liu was injured that year and the golden hopes of a nation were put on hold.

"I hope the wait will end successfully and be over in around 13 seconds. Then it will have been worth it,’’ said Zhu Yanchao, a student at Beihang University, and an ardent sports fan. Regardless of what time the race takes place, Zhu and his friends will stay up to watch it.

"It will be cool if Liu wins back the gold medal to celebrate his comeback. We will also see the stadium raise the national flag to celebrate the anniversary of the Beijing Games."

When Liu won gold eight years ago in Athens, it sparked a national passion for track and field.

"I was not a fan of track and field events but the men’s 110m hurdles final in Athens changed that,’’ said Ketch Zhang, who studies at University College London. "I really believe his sheer determination will once again amaze us."

Liu arrived in London on Friday and has been training behind closed doors.

"I feel more relaxed in London than I did in Athens or Beijing," Liu said. "I have different feelings in different Olympics. I felt more pressure in 2008 in my own country.

"Now I have been through so many major races and I know how to adjust myself mentally and how to deal with distractions from outside. I’m now enjoying the Olympics."

His head coach Sun Haiping said Liu is not the young and aggressive athlete of eight years ago and is far more composed.

"I know he is more mature and can handle everything now," Sun said.

Liu has good reason to take it easy, as he already has all the major titles under his belt.

Even the Olympic record of 12.91 was set by Liu — the second fastest man in the world this year after American Aries Merritt — when he won gold at the Athens Games.

The previously injured foot could be a concern once the race begins.

Liu qualified for the final at the London Grand Prix last month, his last race before the Games, but withdrew with a muscle pain in his rib after the semifinals. After the race, Liu flew to Germany to avoid London’s weather

It’s a different injury than the Achilles injury that forced him out of the Beijing Games, but it was enough to raise some concern.

After they arrived in London on Friday, Sun said the rib muscle was no longer a problem, but admitted Liu’s foot gave him trouble in Germany.

"During the tune-up in Germany, we simulated the Olympics’ three-round format and found he felt a bit uncomfortable in his injured foot. It’s more intense at the Olympics than other events this season, where he just had to run once," Sun said. "But we used ice and other physical therapy. It went very well, and Liu is now at his best form."

Sun said Liu’s return makes the event one of the most anticipated on the Olympic schedule.

"This will be a showdown to watch in the 110m hurdles," he said. "The sport has produced a golden generation, a group of the best hurdlers competing at the same time. To make it more spectacular, this is likely to be the last Olympics for Liu and also for (Dayron) Robles and some of the best American hurlers."

Tough field

It is indeed a strong group.

Two of the toughest will be Merritt and Robles.

This year’s fastest man, Merritt, has said he can run faster in London, possibly even at a world record pace.

Having clocked 12.93 sec in June at the US Olympic Trials to qualify for the Games and rise to the top spot in the world rankings, Merritt equaled that time on July 13 on a soggy Crystal Palace track at the London Grand Prix and again at the Herculis Monaco meet on July 20.

"This meet gives me confidence going into the Games because I know that I’m able to run in any conditions: rain, cold. I can run in it and I can run fast," Merritt said at that time.

The 2012 indoor world champion in the 60m hurdles and 2005 world junior champion now wants to run even faster.

"Hopefully, I can shave off 0.05, maybe a world record, who knows? You’re never going to know when you run a world record because competition and conditions play a huge factor.

"But we already know the competition is there with world champion Jason (Richardson of the US), Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles. So you never know when a record will happen. You just have to stay consistent and keep tracking."

Reigning champion Robles, who set the world record of 12.87 in June 2008, two months before he won gold at the Beijing Games, has not had an ideal preparation for the defense of his title.

He had to skip the world indoors because of a lower back injury, then missed two prestigious American outdoor meetings in Eugene, Oregon, and New York with another injury, this time to his lead leg.

So the form of the 25-year-old, who will be bidding to become the first man since American great Roger Kingdom in 1984 and 1988 to successfully defend his title in the event, will not be seen until the first heat.

Coach Santiago Antunez is confident he will defend his title successfully, even against a resurgent Liu.

"He is the Olympic champion, and the fastest in the world in the event," Antunez told AFP last month. "If he loses in London in what is a really tough competition, it will be because of a problem that occurs on the day."

Robles faced Liu on the track once this year, in an indoor meeting in Birmingham in February, over the shorter distance of 60m. Liu won.

Medal Count

1 46 29 29
2 38 27 22
3 29 17 19
4 24 25 33
5 13 8 7
6 11 19 14

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