(AFP) – Aug 8, 2008
BEIJING (AFP) — China's Liu Xiang is ramping up training ahead of his bid to defend his revered Olympic 110m hurdles title.
Liu might not be as well known outside China as NBA star Yao Ming, who has been chosen as China's flag-bearer at Friday's opening ceremony for a second consecutive Olympics.
But the acclaim that greeted Liu's shock win in the hurdles in Athens four years ago shot him to instant fame and fortune in his native country.
Out of the blocks with a fast 0.139sec reaction time to the gun, Liu produced an almost-perfect display of hurdling in the Greek capital, speeding home in a then-world record-equalling time three metres ahead of American Terrence Trammell in second.
Liu immediately entered Chinese sporting folklore as the first Asian to claim Olympic track gold.
Although Liu can be seen everywhere you turn in Beijing on billboards and television adverts, the 25-year-old himself has gone underground in the run-up to these Olympics after a fractured season.
Liu has chosen to stay away from a series of track and field meetings in Europe in recent weeks that have served as warm-ups to the August 8-24 Games.
His last international race was at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon in May, when he was disqualified for a false start. His recent Olympic preparations have also been troubled by a hamstring injury.
But coach Sun Haiping has said that his protégé had been ramping up preparations after overcoming injuries and a lack of competitive racing.
"Liu is undergoing intensive training these days to compensate for what he lost due to a shortage of competitions before the Olympics," Sun said.
Liu will face some tough competition in his bid to retain his Olympic title.
"The biggest threats for me are the younger competitors like (Dayron) Robles from Cuba and American (David) Oliver," he recently said.
"In the last two years these guys have really improved, and Oliver has broken the 13-second barrier."
The 21-year-old Robles dethroned Liu as the world record holder in June, shaving a hundredth of a second off Liu's best with a time of 12.87sec.
On July 18, the Cuban clocked 12.88sec, his third performance under 13 seconds this season.
Trammell, a two-time Olympic runner-up and 2007 world runner-up, expressed some sympathy with Liu.
"He will be under an extreme amount of pressure. He is pretty much holding a nation on his shoulders," the American said. "I can't even fathom 1.3 billion people and they are all watching him."
But Liu has insisted that he is ready for the ultimate test, which kicks off in the pressure cooker-like atmosphere of the Bird's Nest national stadium with heats on August 18, the final coming three days later.
"I don't see myself as a superstar. I see myself as an average person," Liu said. "I just try to do my best. I have to be calm to face up to the pressure."
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