A durable supply chain of champions

Speedy Chinese... Su Bingtian (left) finishes ahead of Samuel Adelebari of Qatar (right) and Barakat Al Harthi of Oman in the men's 100m dash in the Asian Championships.-R. RAGU Speedy Chinese... Su Bingtian (left) finishes ahead of Samuel Adelebari of Qatar (right) and Barakat Al Harthi of Oman in the men's 100m dash in the Asian Championships.

Apart from finishing on top of the medals table, 16 (seven men and nine women) of China’s individual winners gained automatic qualification for the 2013 World Championships where they will rub shoulders with the planet’s best. By Nandakumar Marar.

China treated the trip to Balewadi (Pune) for the 20th Asian Athletics Championships as an exposure tour for its young athletes. That the nation topped the table in both the men’s (seven gold, two silver, three bronze medals) and women’s (nine gold, four silver, two bronze medals) sections points to the country’s rich talent.

Apart from finishing on top, 16 (seven men and nine women) of China’s individual winners gained automatic qualification for the 2013 World Championships (Moscow, August 10-18) as regional champions. They will rub shoulders with the world’s best in the Russian capital.

“We have better athletes back home who had qualified for the World Championships. Since they are busy preparing (for the event in Moscow), we came here with a relatively younger squad. This (AAC) is the highest level (in Asia), so a good point for these athletes to start. We made use of the Asian Championships to give our young athletes the chance to compete against high-level Asians, to learn from other countries,” informed the team leader Feng Shuyong.

Medals in the World Championships will help the Chinese athletes gain prominence in the public eye. For a nation that is dominant in track and field events at regional meets like the Asian Games and the Asian Championships and one that is keen to assert itself as a sporting power (it finished second, behind the United States in the medals table at the 2012 London Olympics), athletics, surprisingly, is not among popular career options in China.

“Athletics is not a popular career option, compared to say table tennis or badminton. The young generation prefer these sports because they are easier to play and compete in. Athletics at the Asian level is tough,” said Shuyong.

The Shanghai Diamond League is a high-profile competition, the second in a series of athletics events worldwide where the best of athletes compete. Some of China’s winners at the AAC are expected to graduate to the senior level and maintain the supply-chain of champions for the country. Su Bingtian defended his title in the men’s 100m dash, clocking 10.17s. On the distaff side, Wei Yongli hit the tape first in the sprint with a personal best of 11.29s. Neither of the two athletes was burly with rippling muscles, as is normally the case with the sprinters.

“Chinese athletes use their trunks to generate pace. Elsewhere in the world, the focus of sprint coaches is on developing the lower body and shoulder muscles of athletes. We focus on helping sprinters learn to use their trunks as well as legs and shoulders — you can see it in Su Bing and Yongli,” explained Shuyong.

This is a completely different view to the general assumption that sprinters’ body structure is a lot slimmer these days due to the checks in place against the use of illegal drugs by athletes to increase muscle mass.

Ever since Liu Xiang enthralled China with a gold medal in the 110m hurdles in the 2004 Athens Olympics, hurdling has been very popular with the Chinese. While an injury ruled Xiang out of contention for a medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he crashed into the first hurdle in the 2012 London Games.

While China’s search for a hurdler in the class of Xiang continues, new faces in Pune seemed to be work in progress. Jiang Fan won the gold in the men’s 110m hurdles in 13.61s, while Cheng Wen took the silver in the men’s 400m hurdles, behind Japan’s Yasuhiro Fueki.

China’s 42-member squad at the AAC included 18 male and 24 female athletes who took part in 27 events. According to Shuyong, long-distance running has not been his nation’s priority ever since other nations in Asia started using African runners to win medals. “We came with very few distance runners. Africans running for different nations are good in distance running, but in the long run for Asia, distance running will not develop this way,” the Chinese team leader added.

Incidentally, China’s Wang Chunyu won the women’s 800m title in 2:02.47, ahead of Bahrain’s Ethiopian-born Regasa Genzeb Shumi, who came second in 2:04.16.

“There are fewer chances for Asians if Africans are running and winning here. A time will come when the younger generation will give up distance running and turn to other events. This is an issue for the triple A (Asian Athletics Association) to address,” Shuyong said with a smile.

“Mind you what some nations are doing is legal, but in the end you have look at the sport’s future,” the Chinese team leader added.