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Page last updated at 08:17 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 09:17 UK

Ten to watch: Liu Xiang

liu xiang montage

By Mark Ashenden

This 25-year-old 110m hurdler will only have the whole of China demanding nothing but a gold medal at the Olympics.

Welcome support or too much pressure? Think back to Cathy Freeman's glorious efforts in front of her home crowd in Sydney eight years ago and Liu might just be the star of the show.


In his early years, Liu's technique was described as "terrible" by coach Sun Haiping, but Liu has gone on to claim the world record and be world and Olympic champion.

After winning in Athens in 2004 and equalling Colin Jackson's 12.91s world record, Liu said: "I want to prove to all the world that Asians can run very fast". He's fast, but can he handle the pressure and recent injuries?

PATH TO THE PODIUM

2008 form: In a word, patchy. After winning the 2007 worlds, the world indoors five months ago and the Beijing test event in May, all seemed rosy. A hamstring problem then forced his withdrawal from racing in New York in June and in Oregon, Liu was disqualified for a false start, his third in as many races.

poster of liu xiang
Liu's faces stares out from billboards all over Beijing

Rivals: Cuban Dayron Robles tops the list after recently clocking 12.87s and shaving one hundredth of a second off Liu's world record. A cool Liu said: "He has been my main rival over the past two years. Neither of us will show mercy at the Olympics, so let's wait and see what happens then."

Plus there's American David Oliver who grabbed a time of 12.89s in the trials a few weeks ago.

How he could win: For a start, Liu will hope his injury problems calm down. Not having had too many races in the build-up will not have helped his confidence. But he's a proven performer on the big stage and has a smooth technique that should help him cope with the screaming fans in the Bird's Nest stadium.

What Liu says: "I am a Chinese and considering the physiology of the Chinese people, it is something unbelievable." (After becoming Olympic champ in 2004)

"I hope it will be the second birthplace of my dreams." (Thoughts on the Bird's Nest this summer)

Sporting highs: Winning Olympic gold aged 21 is not a bad start. It's also been a steady progression in the worlds, with bronze in 2003, silver in 2005 and gold in Osaka last year. Or perhaps it was grabbing the autograph of his hero hurdler Allen Johnson immediately after finishing behind him in a Grand Prix race in 2002.

Sporting low: After winning a national age-group title in the high jump aged 12, Liu may have been disappointed with the predictions that, despite his early growth spurt, he would not be tall enough to become a world-class jumper.

It has been a steady rise to global stardom for the man from Shanghai. His recent hamstring woes will have been a big blow, but the emergence of Cuba's Dayron Robles could prove to be Liu's undoing this year.

In action in the finals: Thursday 18 August, 1435 BST

All the athletics action takes place in the Bird's Nest. The opening rounds of the 110m hurdles start Monday 18 August, 0410 BST, second round on Tuesday 19 August from 1145 BST and the semis on Wednesday 20 August from 1430 BST.

AWAY FROM ATHLETICS

Life before sport: As the only child of a lorry driver and a pastry cook, the life of an international superstar athlete was inevitable surely? Perhaps, but after impressing in the high jump, success on the track would not have seemed likely.

Until, that is, his sports school asked him aged 15 to give up the event because a bone test showed he would not grow enough to become a world-class jumper.

Hero worship: His grandmother was a huge influence who regularly cooked him braised pork in a brown sauce. On the track, it was former Olympic hurdling champion Allen Johnson who Liu looked up to.

In the build-up to Athens in 2004, he finally managed to beat his hero in Osaka - ideal preparation for becoming Olympic champ three months later.

Most likely to: Have headaches over what sponsorship deals to go for, and also performing many acts of human kindness, such as donating huge amounts of money to the Sichuan Earth quake relief fund. Chinese national team coach Feng Shuyong says: "Girls like him, old ladies like him, even men."

Least likely to: Be hanging round the high streets of Shanghai or Beijing. On being mobbed every time he moves, Liu says: "Being famous is sometimes a good thing, but sometimes not. I prefer not to be famous. My situation has changed. I have money now but I can't shop."

Australian Cathy Freeman on Liu: "He's got to maintain his priorities, keep his perspective. He's already proven that he can perform under pressure and he should pretty much take that model and use it. It's just another day at the office...the emotion will just carry him through the Olympics."

Liu on Liu: "There will be pressure at the Beijing Olympics, but I will have the home field advantage. In the end I just have to take it one race at a time and everything should work out.

"I will try my best, but I still have to live after this period. I think that when I retire it will be better."



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see also
Doubts over Liu's Olympic fitness
17 Jul 08 |  Athletics
Who are Team China?
24 Jul 08 |  Olympics
Robles breaks 110m hurdles record
12 Jun 08 |  Athletics
Jackson praise for successor Liu
12 Jul 06 |  Athletics
Liu sets new world hurdles record
11 Jul 06 |  Athletics


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