SHANGHAI: China can produce another Liu Xiang if the former Olympic 110m hurdles champion retires, a Chinese athlete who hopes to follow in the superstar’s footsteps said Friday, ahead of Shanghai’s Diamond League meeting.
Liu, China’s first Olympic track and field gold medallist, became a national hero with his victory at Athens 2004 but caused heartbreak in Beijing four years later when he pulled out of the final with a right Achilles injury.
Another dramatic exit with a similar problem followed at London 2012 and his Achilles troubles mean he will miss the entire 2013 season, leading some media reports in China to question whether he will ever return.
Now many Chinese fans are pinning their hopes on Xie Wenjun, who came third in the 60m hurdles at February’s Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham.
“China has a lot of top athletes, especially in the men’s 110m hurdles,” the 22-year-old told reporters at a news conference in Shanghai, in response to questions about Liu’s future.
“Liu Xiang is not here, and we all hope he returns, but he is not the only one. I hope that tomorrow Chinese athletes show the world that we are also talented and can achieve very good results.”
Reigning Olympic champion Aries Merritt and silver medallist Jason Richardson go head-to-head in the 110m hurdles again in Shanghai, one of the most hotly anticipated events of the meeting.
Merritt said he expected that if Liu chose to return he would come back “in tip-top form”, as he did when beat both the London 2012 top two with a stunning performance at last year’s Shanghai Diamond meeting.
But the world record holder expected new stars to come through in Liu’s absence if he decided to call it a day, saying: “I think the hurdling game will continue to thrive.”
His rival Richardson added: “This event has been taken to another level, another place, another time, so there is always going to be another hurdler that emerges.”
Merritt is one of seven current Olympic champions in Shanghai, where British long jump gold medallist Greg Rutherford is also competing against champions from Athens and Beijing — as well as the silver medallist from London.
The meeting, the second in the Diamond calendar, will also see a men’s 400m duel between Olympic champion Kirani James from Grenada, and Luguelin Santos of Dominican Republic, who claimed silver in London.
Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will compete in the 100m women’s event against world title-holder Carmelita Jeter, whom she beat into second place in London.
Ethiopia’s two-time Olympic champion Meseret Defar heads a talented 5,000m field, and Yelena Isinbayeva, considered the greatest ever woman pole vaulter, is another headliner. — AFP