Liu Xiang steals the show

Champion stuff… Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang races to victory in the 110m hurdles at the Asian Championships in Guangzhou.-PICS: AP

By far this was one of the best Asian championships in terms of top-level participation, with Asian leaders for the season in 15 men’s events and 11 women’s events competing, writes K. P. Mohan.

China could have been expected to make a bigger sweep than what it eventually did in the first Asian Athletics Championships at home. Chief Coach Feng Shuyong pointed out the proximity between the National Games in Jinan and the Guangzhou meet as one of the reasons for below-par performances in certain events.

He also mentioned the lateness of this meet, a point that the Asian Athletics Association (AAA) hopes to rectify from the next championships since it has ruled that from now on the meet would be held between May and July only.

The strong presence of Japanese athletes coupled with the absence of a few of its top-ranked athletes stopped China from making it a lop-sided affair. The Japanese did falter in the sprints that they were supposed to sweep; they suffered a huge setback in men’s pole vault when Daichi Sawano was pushed to the third place by two Chinese, Liu Feiliang and Yang Quan, and yet ended up with 12 gold medals, of which seven came from the women’s section.

By far this was one of the best Asian championships in terms of top-level participation, with Asian leaders for the season in 15 men’s events — including relays — and 11 women’s events — including relays — competing. There was also a world champion, Bai Xue, who won the marathon in Berlin last August, and she took the 10,000 metres in this meet.

There were also four bronze winners from the Berlin World Championships, James Kwalia Kurui of Qatar (5000m), Yukifumi Murakami of Japan (javelin) and Gong Lijiao of China (shot put) and Liu Hong, also of China (20km walk). All of them except Liu Hong lived up to their rating by winning the titles. Liu Hong was disqualified after leading initially.

The most prominent absentees were from Bahrain. Both its world champions in 1500 metres, Youssef Saad Kamel and Maryam Yusuf Jamal, did not come. Triple jumper Li Yanxi of China, who set an Asian record of 17.59m in winning the National Games title in October, also did not make it. So, too, team-mate Li Yanfeng, who also won in Jinan, in women’s discus, at 66.40.

Yoshika Tatsumi of Japan who won the women’s 3000m steeplechase.-

Li Yanfeng’s absence did not matter to the Chinese team as it had two capable women discus throwers in Song Aimin and Ma Xuejun to claim the top two spots, leaving the bronze to India. Li Yanxi’s absence, however, probably denied China the gold in men’s triple jump.

The cynosure at the meet happened to be none other than Liu Xiang, the former Olympic and World champion and world record holder in the 110m hurdles. He drew a crowd of around 30,000, all adoring fans, to the Guangdong Olympic Stadium on the third day of the championships.

Liu Xiang won his pet event effortlessly, but in the rain and cold that day, he did not expectedly exert himself, clocking 13.82 seconds. Compared to his season’s best of 13.15s that he had timed in the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix in September, his first meet in more than a year after pulling out of the Beijing Olympics with an injury, this was routine stuff. In fact, he eased up at the end and playacted a little for the benefit of his fans after the finish before doing a lap of honour.

Five championship records were bettered, two in the men’s section — in 10,000m by Hasan Mahboob Ali of Bahrain (28:23.70) and in shot put by Om Prakash Singh of India (19.87m) — and three in the women’s section — in 3000m steeplechase by Yoshika Tatsumi of Japan (10:05.94), in hammer throw by Zhang Wenxiu of China (72.07m) and in 20km walk by Mayumi Kawasaki of Japan (1:30:12).

In 27 events, performances were better than those achieved in Amman two years ago, though no season-leading marks were recorded in individual events. In 16 events the performances were poorer while in men’s long jump, won by Chinese newcomer Li Jinzhe at 8.16m, it was equal.

Masashi Eriguchi of Japan, season leader in the men’s 100m with 10.07s, did not come through the heats while the second favourite, Naoki Tsukahara, also of Japan, finished with the silver against a relatively unknown Chinese, Zhang Pei-Ming.

In the 200m and 400m also the Japanese suffered stunning setbacks with Shinji Takahira losing to Omar Jouma Al-Salfa of the UAE and Yuzo Kanemaru, the Asian Games champion, being edged by Chinese Liu Xiaosheng in the one-lap event.

But Japan took three of the four relays, winning the men’s 4x400m event in a season-leading 3:04.13.