China taking great strides forward

Updated: 2013-05-25 07:23

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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 China taking great strides forward

Long jumper Li Jinzhe leapt 8.31 meters to win at the IAAF World Challenge Beijing on Tuesday at the Bird's Nest. Only three days earlier, Li jumped a season's best of 8.34m to win the Shanghai IAAF Diamond League title. Led by Li, a group of young Chinese track and field athletes are on the rise. Cui Meng / China Daily

Crop of promising young athletes following in the wake of star hurdler

Liu Xiang's absence from the international arena has not slowed China's progress in track and field.

Boasting robust results and character, a crop of young Chinese athletes has emerged from the star hurdler's shadow and is set to lead the country's charge against the world's best.

In the absence of Liu, who is recovering from heel surgery in the US, China's sprinters and jumpers drew great attention to themselves at two recent meets held in the country.

"It's unfair to say that Liu's era has ended but I believe the new generation will be able to take over his baton to stand high for Chinese athletics in the future," high jumper Wang Yu said after winning the title at the IAAF World Challenge Beijing with a personal best of 2.33 meters at the National Stadium on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old's result ranked him second so far this year, only 0.01 meter behind US jumper Erik Kynard, and tied with Kynard's silver-medal winning height at the London Olympics.

Boasting marketable looks and a humble demeanor, Wang, a junior student at Tsinghua University, has been hailed as an upcoming star with a distinctly different background to Liu, who was brought up in the State-run system without receiving a college education.

Still, Wang remains in awe of Liu.

"The legacy he left to us is his fighting spirit in facing adversity. We feel the pressure to catch up to him, but we are confident we can reach his level in our respective events," said Wang, who studies business administration at Tsinghua University.

Joining Wang in China's youth surge are long jumper Li Jinzhe, who won the gold medal at last week's IAAF Diamond League Shanghai leg with the year's best leap of 8.34 meters, and sprinter Zhang Peimeng, also a student at Tsinghua, who broke the national records in the 100m and 200m this month.

"I proved that my performance didn't happen by chance and I am definitely more confident now," said the 23-year-old long jumper, who beat London Olympic champion Greg Rutherford at the Shanghai meet.

Zhang, who failed to smash his own 100m NR of 10.04 sec in Beijing, still earned plaudits from some of the fastest men in the world.

"I am the oldest and fastest man in the world (over 30 years of age), so I look at Zhang and I see the future, not just for China but for athletics all over," 31-year-old Justin Gatlin, the men's 100m champion at the 2004 Olympics, said after winning the sprint in Beijing.

"I think he has a chance to reach many finals at the Olympics and World Championships."

Impressed by Zhang's potential, Gatlin invited the 25-year-old to train with him in Florida later this season.

"My goal is to fill in the blank that no men from China have ever appeared in the 100m final at the Olympics, not just win the title at the National Games," said Zhang.

Benefiting from the country's foreign coaching program, the new breed of athletes, like Wang and Zhang, are more willing than their predecessors to display their individuality and express their opinions in public.

After winning the high jump in the Bird's Nest, Wang bowed with one hand on his chest and the other on his back to the cheering home crowd before making a brief but eloquent speech on how important higher education was to athletes at the post-race media conference.

Feng Shuyong, deputy director of the national track and field administrative center, said: "They are not only improving their results but also their mentality and confidence.

"They are not afraid to challenge the best athletes in the world or to bring out their ambitions, which I believe is a key requirement for top-level athletes."

So far this season Chinese athletes have reached the World Championships' A standards in 13 disciplines, including traditionally weak events like sprinting and jumping.

However, Feng remains guarded about the country's prospects at the Moscow Worlds in August.

"It's too early to make a prediction now as some of our top athletes in the strength and endurance events have injury problems. And the National Games after the Worlds will be a distraction."

Still, the performance of the new generation has impressed some renowned foreign athletes.

"It's exciting. They are catching up. The (Chinese) athletes are making progress," Allyson Felix, the US world and Olympic champion in the women's 200m, said after winning in Beijing.

Felix's countryman, LaShawn Merritt, echoed that sentiment.

"I know Liu Xiang will be back, but China has a lot other great athletes coming up. He will be missed but I am sure there will be somebody else to step up," said Merritt, the 400m gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

China taking great strides forward 

China's Wang Yu in action at the IAAF World Challenge Beijing. Wang reached his personal best of 2.33m at the event. Cui Meng / China Daily

(China Daily 05/25/2013 page15)