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Athletes use Diamonds to polish Paris prospects

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-30 07:24
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Wang Jianan (top) and Feng Bin are both carrying China's hopes for medals in track and field at the Paris Olympic Games. [Photo/Xinhua]

Team China's track and field hopefuls put to the test in Xiaman and Suzhou

Not a fruitful campaign, but quite a solid test against the best — Chinese athletes have capped a Diamond League doubleheader at home with plenty of positive takeaways for Paris 2024.

With eight medals and, more importantly, a clear self-evaluation up against the world's elites achieved at home, Chinese jumpers, runners and throwers have taken full advantage of this season's first two Diamond League meets to facilitate their Olympic preparations, discovering where they need to push for every extra margin of improvement — however small.

Leading off the charge was women's discus thrower Feng Bin, who maintained her elite status in the event by winning back-to-back medals, first a bronze in the opening leg in Xiamen on April 20, followed by a silver in Suzhou on Saturday, to stay in the medal contention for Paris 2024 at the start of the Olympic season.

As the 2022 world championship winner, Feng made a statement as a serious challenger against defending Olympic champion and world No 1 Valarie Allman of the United States, by landing two throws beyond 67 meters within a week.

Allman won both meets in China with two 69m-plus throws to demonstrate her supremacy.

"I think it means a lot for me to pull off results like this early in the season," said Feng, who won China's first discus world championship gold medal in 11 years at the 2022 edition by landing a personal best distance of 69.12 meters in Eugene, Oregon.

"It proves that I've done my offseason training right during the winter break and I am now ready to go pushing for better results.

"My overall strength and technique have improved, as shown by my efforts at these two meets. I believe I can produce better results this year than previous seasons," said the 30-year-old, who will make her third Olympic appearance in Paris this summer.

As a three-time final winner in World Athletics' premier series, Allman took pride in her golden brace in Xiamen and Suzhou, as she strives to fend off all challengers, including Feng, en route to retaining her gold in Paris.

"I feel like things were so close to connecting to that big throw," said Allman, who landed a PB of 71.46 meters at an event in San Diego, California in April 2022. "But, I'm all into trying to make it happen, and excited to get back with my coach and to be putting in the work. It's giving me some good confidence at this point in the year."

Also carrying the Olympic medal hopes of Chinese throwers is women's shot put veteran Gong Lijiao, who got her journey to a fifth Olympic campaign off to a golden start in Xiamen on April 2.

"I am the only athlete born in the 1980s that is still competing here, and I am the only thrower using the glide-step technique now. Yet, I feel like I still have potential to tap into in order to achieve greater results," Gong said after winning the season-opener with a 19.72-meter effort.

Gong, who, at 35, was the oldest among all competitors in Xiamen and Suzhou, still believes that her best form remains ahead of her, even with the majority of the world's best now having adopted the more popular spin method, which involves athletes rotating in a circular motion before releasing the shot.

"My goal is simple — to go beyond 21 meters. I really believe that I have what it takes to go there. I've had a solid winter training program, so stay tuned (for better results)," said Gong, who landed her dream Olympic gold medal with a PB throw of 20.58 meters in Tokyo in 2021.

Gong's younger teammate Song Jiayuan, who claimed her career first medal on the Diamond League circuit in Suzhou on Saturday, hails the home test against Gong and international heavyweights, such as two-time world champion Chase Jackson of the US and Canada's world indoor champion Sarah Mitton, as a great learning curve.

"It enlightened me on where and how I should push for extra improvements in my training in the future," said Song, who won bronze with a 19.83-meter throw in Suzhou, where Jackson dominated with a 20.03-meter effort.

On the men's side, long jumpers Wang Jianan and Shi Yuhao demonstrated China's growing depth in an event that has long been dominated by the West, after they finished second and third, respectively, on the podium in Suzhou.

Wang's 8.04-meter effort on his second attempt was just four centimeters shorter than eventual winner Marquis Dendy of the US on Saturday, but was good enough for the 2022 Oregon worlds gold medalist to rekindle his hopes for a golden finish in Paris.

"The result was not particularly excellent, but I am happy with my jumps. My execution was good and the intensity was there," said Wang, who won China's first world championships gold medal in any horizontal jumping event by leaping over 8.36 meters in Eugene two years ago.

To the excitement of Wang's followers, the return of his long-term American mentor Randy Huntington, former coach of world-record holder Mike Powell, to the sidelines in Suzhou bodes well for his Olympic prospects.

Huntington, who was the mastermind behind huge improvements in Chinese long jumping and sprinting leading up to the Tokyo Games, took Wang under his wing in 2014, guiding him to his breakthrough at the worlds in 2022, has come back to the Chinese national program following a break.

" (After winning the world championship) I am more confident and have higher requirements for myself now, yet it comes with more pressure," Wang said before the Suzhou meet.

"I will just focus on what I can control, which is to work harder in training and complete my routines the best I can," he said of his preparations for Paris.

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