China’s new generation ready to take on Liu’s mantle
Xie Wenjun and Li Jinzhe spoke today about the pressure of competing in Liu’s shadow and their hopes of following the former world record holder and Olympic champion to the pinnacle of the sport.
Both have already touched the heights by winning against the world’s best at this meeting in the last couple of years – Xie 12 months ago when he won the showcase 110m hurdles in a personal best of 13.23, and Li in 2013 when he produced the shock of the night to beat a world class long jump field, also with a PB.
Since their Shanghai triumphs both have gone on to achieve greater success on the international stage. Li made the World Championship final in 2013 and won a world indoor silver last year, while they each won gold medals at the Asian Games in Incheon last October where China dominated the athletics medal table with 15 golds and 40 medals in total.
According to Xie, those results show that Liu’s legacy to Chinese athletics is a talented new generation and a bright future – not a bad place to leave the sport with this year’s World Championships in Beijing just around the corner.
“The young generation of Chinese athletes keeps on growing,” said the 24-year-old. “We can see we have already achieved many breakthroughs, especially at the Asian Games last year.
“A lot of us have climbed to the top in Asia and soon we can expect that to bear fruit at international championships too.”
Li believes it is Xie who will lead this ascent at the global level, although the hurdler points the finger right back at his long-jumping compatriot, saying the 25-year-old is the man most likely to follow Liu to the top of the Olympic podium in Rio next year.
“I think Xie will take on this responsbility as the flag bearer for Chinese track and field,” said Li. “Runners are more recognisable and more likely to stir the feeings and excitement of the fans.”
“Li has the most potential in Chinese track and field,” countered Xie, modestly. “I think it is very likely he will win Olympic gold in Rio.”
One indication of the veracity of Xie’s prediction will come tomorrow night when Li takes on a long jump field he described as equivalent to “the final of the World Championships”, with Russia’s world champion Aleksandr Menkov and the reigning Olympic and European champion Greg Rutherford among his opponents.
“I’m still suffering from a minor injury but I am confident I can perform well,” he said. “You can regard this as a rehearsal for the World Championships in Beijing.”
As for Xie, he hopes to be in good form again a year after his breakthrough victory. David Oliver was one of those he beat in 2014 and the world champion is back in 2015, along with the world record holder and 2012 Olympic champion, Aries Merritt, the 2011 world champion Jason Richardson, and the 2013 world silver and bronze medallists, Sergey Shubenkov and Ryan Wilson.
It’s a daunting field, but Xie believes he is ready for the challenge.
“I feel in good form so I will be competing for the win again,” said Xie. “But obviously these are the world’s best. I grew up watching them and now they are friends and opponents, but I will try to challenge them.”
At 23, high jumper Zhang Guowei is another young Chinese athlete who’ll be challenging for Diamond Race points tomorrow. A finalist at the last two World Championships, Zhang won silver behind Mutaz Barshim at the Asian Games and has already leapt to second in this year’s world rankings with 2.35m.
And there are even more young Chinese hopefuls in the women’s events, including Asian pole vault record holder Li Ling who claimed Asian championship and Asian Games titles last year, and took her first global honour at the Continental Cup in Marrakech last September. She will take on world indoor champion Yarisley Silva from Cuba tomorrow night.
Then there’s Wei Yongli, another Asian Games champion, in the women’s 200m, two bronze medallists from Incheon, Zhao Jing in the 800m and Ding Changqin in the 5000m, and Asian javelin record holder Li Lingwei, plus two young shot putters – 19-year-old Guo Tianqian, who won the world junior title last year, and Gao Yang, a world junior silver medallist three years ago.
With such an array of upcoming talent, it looks like Liu’s legacy may already have arrived.