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Another huge stride for Chinese running

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-05 09:38
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China's Yang Shaohui summons one last push to the finish line at the Fukuoka International Marathon in Fukuoka City, Japan, on Sunday. Yang set a national record of 2:07:09. AP

National record lowered for second time this year to cap year of breakthroughs

China's thriving marathon scene celebrated another milestone on Sunday after Yang Shaohui clocked a men's national record of 2:07:09 in a runner-up finish in Fukuoka, Japan.

"I finally made it! It was a goal that I could never have dreamed of achieving, but I turned it into reality. A marathon career is a long journey for all runners, and any breakthrough cannot be made easily or in a short time," the 31-year-old Yang wrote on social media on Sunday.

"I was born in the mountains. Every time I climbed over a mountain, I would take a look back at the tough route that led me there. That was when I would feel the arduous journey was not impossible to finish.

"And then I would look ahead, as there would be a new mountain to take on. So this is a kind of cycle, and through it, we always see new horizons and overcome all the mountains and obstacles ahead of us."

Yang was not the only Chinese runner to shine in Fukuoka, with 22-year-old Feng Peiyou clocking a personal-best 2:08:07 — three seconds within the Olympic qualifying standard — to finish sixth.

At March's Wuxi Marathon, He Jie broke a men's national record that had stood for 16 years, clocking 2:07:30, with Yang's new mark on Sunday highlighting the healthy competition among China's top long-distance runners.

Sunday's record-breaking effort did not come out of the blue. Yang had finished second in Wuxi with a time of 2:07:49, also faster than Ren Longyun's previous national mark of 2:08:15, set in 2007.

"The goal I set for myself was to make personal breakthroughs. I did not prepare too long for the Fukuoka Marathon, as I only trained for it for half a month," said Yang in his post-race interview in Japan.

"I didn't think too much about exactly what time I wanted. I just told myself to try my best. Even if I risked blowing up during the race, I decided to push as hard as I could.

"I spoke with my coach before the race, and our plan was to refresh my personal best and to see if it was possible to set a national record by the end of 2023. My coach devised a personalized plan for me."

Yang's record time quickly became the talk of China's vast marathon community on social media. The hashtag "Yang Shaohui breaks Chinese marathon record" had been viewed over 12 million times on Weibo by Monday morning, with countless long-distance running enthusiasts expressing their congratulations.

Among them was Yang's teammate and previous record holder He.

"I really want to congratulate big brother Hui on breaking the record, and also Fengfeng on his personal best to reach the qualification standard for the Paris Olympics. That is another step forward for Chinese marathon running," 24-year-old He wrote on social media.

"I just knew this record would be refreshed some day, but I was surprised at how quickly that happened. In one season, the national record has been refreshed twice, and I know more Chinese runners can break the two hours and nine minutes barrier.

"The year 2023 will surely go down in Chinese long-distance running history. This is the charm of athletics and the marathon — all the great achievements are not done by one person. These achievements are the result of the collective efforts of many great teams."

In addition to the seconds shaved off the national record, there was more cause for celebration in Hangzhou in October, when He topped the podium to claim the nation's first-ever Asian Games marathon gold. Yang bagged bronze at the Asiad.

"We just want to show the world that Chinese marathon runners can be as good as any runners in the world. We have the courage to compete against the world's finest marathon runners," He said of the breakthroughs.

"I'm looking forward to more battles over the coming years. Everyone is making good progress. There will also be tough competitions among Chinese runners, and these will boost our confidence at international events."

The achievements of the nation's elite runners reflect a broader boom in marathon running across all levels in China.

According to a work report by the Chinese Athletics Association released in March, during the first half of 2023 there were 133 registered road running events across China, among which 61 were full marathons.

In 2020, a total of 442 road running events across the nation attracted 1.36 million entries; in 2021, 348 events attracted 1.23 million entries.

"I still remember the days when there were only dozens of professional marathon runners in China. But now, we have millions of runners of all levels participating in road running events. This is the sport that we all love, and together we are making this industry better and better," said Yang.

"So I want to thank all the support we have received through the years, and the great help from our team. Also, for decades, our coaches have been working so hard. Thanks to everyone who has stayed the course with us."

Yang may deserve some time off, but he is not planning on resting on his laurels, revealing he will shortly begin his winter training to prepare for fresh challenges next year.

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