Liu Xiang should learn jumper Zhu's lesson
With a world's season best time of 13.06 seconds to his name, star hurdler Liu Xiang has been tipped a sure shot to win a gold from track and field for China in the upcoming Athens Olympic Games.
But Feng Shuyong, head coach of the Chinese national team, poured cool water to the Chinese fans and said he might let people down if given too much pressure.
Liu eased into the finals of men's 110m hurdles in the Olmpic qualifying tournament here on Saturday.
The world bronze medalist won heat 2 with a time of 13.83 seconds, a far cry from his Asian record of 13.06 set in the Osaka Grand Prix early this month.
"I am not in best shape today, but the time is not very important. I hope to regain my best form just before the Olympic Games and obviously I have enough time to do that," the 21-year-old said.
Liu, who shot to fame in 2002 as he set the world junior record of 13.12 in the Lausanne Grand Prix.
He went on to win the bronze medals at last year's world indoor and outdoor championships and then never looked back.
The Shanghai-born athlete claimed the silver medal in the world indoor championships early this year in Budapest.
His most high-profile victory in Osaka, where he beat former Olympic champion and multi-world titlist Allen Johnson to win the gold, which is his first win over the American star.
The victory helped to increase the nation's expectation that he is very likely to win the gold medal in the Athens Olympic Games this summer.
Feng warned that it can do no good to Liu's preparation for the Olympics if the Chinese fans take it for granted that he can bring home the gold.
"He will face great challenge in Athens," Feng said. "His rivals are very strong."
Feng said that China had a lesson 20 years ago, when former world men's high jump record holder Zhu Jianhua failed to win the gold in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
"Zhu was put under too much pressure before the Olympic Games," Feng said. "All the Chinese people thought he could win the gold."
Zhu, who broke the world record three times in early 1980s, finished third eventually, which was regarded as a fiasco by the Chinese fans.
He was criticized by the whole nation and never recovered from the loss, but his Asian record of 2.39 meters still stands firm.
"Actually, Zhu's bronze was a historical feat. He is still the only athlete from mainland China to win a track and field medal in the Olympic Games," Feng said.
Feng said that the qualifying tournament is not important for Liu because he has already guaranteed his place for Athens.
"Don't expect he can have a good time in Sunday's finals," he said. "The time is not so important."
He said that Liu will compete in three IAAF Grand Prix events in Europe in May to warm up for the Olympics.
"I hope that he can run inside 13.10 seconds in Athens," Feng said. "I think
that time can earn him a medal."