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Liu Xiang: Shanghai streak
August 28, 2004
China won their first Olympic medals in 1984 and since then gathered over a hundred gold medals at the quadrennial Games. But none of those medals was won by their men from track and field.
High jumper Zhu Jianhua, who was the world record holder at the time, had won a bronze in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. That effort was the Chinese men's best showing till this Friday.
But in 12.91 seconds, Liu Xiang changed all that.
Not only did the 21-year-old become the first Chinese man to win an Olympic track and field title but he also equalled the world record in the process.
Liu's personal best going into the 110 metres hurdles final was 13.06 seconds. In clocking 12.91 seconds in the final he set the first world record on the track at the Athens Games, a feat least expected.
The world championships bronze medallist had won the second heat of the 110m hurdles with a time of 13.83 seconds, a far cry from his Asian record of 13.06, set in the Osaka Grand Prix early this month.
"I am not in best shape today, but the time is not very important. I hope to regain my best form just before the Olympic Games and obviously I have enough time to do that," the 21-year-old had said.
True to his word, he achieved peak form and matched the mark set 11 years ago by Briton Colin Jackson in Stuttgart, Germany.
But it was not without determination that Liu succeeded.
He was selected to the Junior Sports School of Putuo District of Shanghai to practice high jumping as a fourth grader in the primary school. But after a bone test showed that he will not be able to become a tall man, he was asked to give up sports, that despite winning the national championship at that level.
His parents also wanted him to study computer engineering or some other profession befitting his middle-class Shanghai upbringing. But Liu decided to go on.
And the results of his perseverance are there for all to see.
Liu shot to fame in 2002 when he set the world junior record of 13.12 seconds in the Lausanne Grand Prix. He went on to win the bronze medals at last year's world indoor and outdoor championships and then never looked back.
Liu Xiang may go on to become China's greatest track and field athlete. For now, he is our Olympian of the day