JINAN: Athens Olympic champion Liu Xiang ignited a sold-out Olympic sports center with victory in the men's 110m hurdles finals at the 11th Chinese National Games here on Sunday.
Olympic gold medalist Liu Xiang (C) from Shanghai jubilates while Ji Wei(L) of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) team and Shi Dongpeng from Hebei watch on the podium after the men's 110m hurdles of athletics at the 11th Chinese National Games in Jinan, east China's Shandong Province, Oct. 25, 2009. [Xinhua]
The 26-year-old Liu, who finished second at the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix last month, exploded out of the starting blocks and hit the line first with a last-gasp burst in 13.34 seconds.
The result was good enough for the 2007 world champion to win the title, but far off his former world record and personal best of 12.88 seconds.
"I just wanted to keep the pace, keep steady. I kept watching my opponents during the race. I didn't make my upmost to spurt," Liu said after the race.
Ji Wei of the Peoples Liberation Army, who placed first in the Saturday's heats, finished second in 13.42. Liu's national teammate Shi Dongpeng stood third in 13.63.
Liu made an iconic bug-eyed expression to amuse the audiences before the race. The former record holder trotted around the stadium after crossing the line, waving arms to audiences, attracting thunderous cheers and applauses from a more than 50,000 crowd.
Olympic goldmedalist Liu Xiang (R) from Shanghai competes during the men's 110m hurdles of athletics at the 11th Chinese National Games in Jinan, east China's Shandong Province, Oct. 25, 2009.[Xinhua]
"Thanks a lot for the Shandong peoples' support and also the media. I felt great tonight," Liu added.
The race was Liu's first since he staged his comeback from Achilles tendon surgery last month at the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix. He finished second in a wind-aided 13.15 seconds after crossing the line neck and neck with American Terrence Trammell.
"After I accepted the surgery, I was in doubt of myself and cannot see my future. But with one match after another, I gradually recovered. I believed in myself." said Liu.
As the first Chinese male athlete to win an Olympic track gold, Liu is one of the nation's favorite sports stars like NBA Houston Rockets' center Yao Ming.
Supporters were shocked and heartbroken when Liu limped out of the Bird's Nest last year at the Beijing Olympics due to the foot injury.
Thirteen months later, the strong-minded man thrilled the home crowd with strong comeback in Shanghai and proved he still had the strength to catch up with current record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba.
Liu's victory on Sunday made him become the first Chinese athlete to win an event in a row in three straight Games.
"To be a triple champion was great. I still hope to win the fourth next time," said a beaming Liu.