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Hopes for hurdler amid earthquake grief

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James Reynolds | 21:17 UK time, Saturday, 24 May 2008

The Sichuan earthquake continues to dominate this country's attention. But one event has managed to divert people's minds - I've just seen 13 and a bit seconds that the whole of China would like to see repeated in August at the Olympic Games.

Liu Xiang, the Chinese hurdler, has just won a warm-up event held at the Olympic Stadium in Beijing. I joined tens of thousands of fans to watch his race. Liu was so far ahead of the rest of the field that he slowed down to a jog as he crossed the line. He accompanied his jog with a kind of nonchalant hangdog expression - the kind that you or I might have if we were queuing up at the post office, not winning races in front of huge crowds.

Liu Xiang is China's great hope for this summer's Olympics. That's a reasonably boring way of saying it - so let me put it another way: whether or not Liu Xiang wins gold may be the difference between the Games being a success for China and the Games being a triumph. An Olympic title in a high-profile track event would beat anything else that China might achieve at this summer's Games. If Liu Xiang ever considered an under-the-radar approach in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, he obviously cast aside the thought pretty quickly.

Wherever you go in Beijing you find pictures of the champion hurdler looking straight back at you. By my count he advertises a sports car, some sports gear, a credit card, and also something else I saw at a bus stop but couldn't quite work out (no doubt the product is in some way sleek and fast). It would perhaps be easier and quicker if all of us in Beijing simply carried his photo in our wallets.

It's hard to imagine what kind of pressure he's under. He is expected to win - he's the defending champion and world record holder in his event. But he doesn't seem to mind. After tonight's race, he was asked about the Olympic Stadium and the thought of coming back and winning a gold medal in August: "I hope it will be the second birthplace of my dreams," he told the crowd.

PS: Tonight's event may have been about athletics - but the Sichuan earthquake wasn't far from people's minds. Whenever an athlete from Sichuan was introduced, the crowd cheered and roared.


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  • 1. At 11:40pm on 24 May 2008, fairreport wrote:

    Yeah, Liu Xiang is a great athlete, and a great man - he donated 3 Million RMB(220K pounds) to Sichuan, I believe it is a lot of money for him as well as he started to be famous only 4 to 5 years ago, hopefully he will win 110m hurdle in Beijing Olympics.

    James, there is a great sign that you start to report based on truth. I watched your reports during Tibet riots, definitely you pretended to be in a war zone, and pretended to be hinding in the hotel, saying "it is too dangerous". You know this was not the truth, it was NOT dangerous to you, even the soliders see you in the hotel, definitely you would not be shot, or any harm done to you. You know that, we know that, but your audiences in the UK did not know that. You achieved the anti-China sentiment, but lost credibility of yourself and BBC.

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  • 2. At 00:56am on 25 May 2008, Lightsoutbritain wrote:

    James has become our dear friend! China shall be the second birth place of your dreams! ;-)

    Keep up the good work!

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  • 3. At 02:25am on 25 May 2008, derek_boom wrote:

    Thanks James.

    You are right that Liu Xiang is under tremendous pressure. In a few months he will be the hero or the scapegoat of the nation. This is about more than winning or losing, it has become an issue of national pride and identity.

    One of the side-effects of the Sichuan quake was that the recent eruptions of Chinese nationalism faded a bit. People learned that there are more important things in life than carrying a flame around the country. I hope that people will be able to keep their feet on the ground.

    And that Liu Xiang will triumph.

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  • 4. At 03:22am on 25 May 2008, lonelyprince wrote:

    Undoubtledly the most greatest athlete will make his dream come true again , which I have full confidence in.

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  • 5. At 03:29am on 25 May 2008, drmarkmark wrote:

    for a few days, i was wonder where was Mr reynolds. For a few minutes, I was worry about his safety.

    Good, he 's back to beijing.

    Liu Xiang is a first class athele, no doubt. But to have whole china over him is a bit too much. Run fast, jump better and earn some money, do a few good thing and set up a good example, Like Mr Chen Kin, who was buried under the rubble for 79 hours and died ont he way to rescue station on the mountain track.
    Olympic is just a game, a game, don't get too serious, it is still unfair and a corrupted joke, really.
    May as well enjoy my son's school sports day.

    BTW, why can't all swimmer swim nake, runners with the same type of shoes?
    that is most fair.

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  • 6. At 10:47am on 25 May 2008, meixue1 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 2:07pm on 25 May 2008, jinfng wrote:

    Thanks to James. Thanks for your hard work in China.

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  • 8. At 7:30pm on 26 May 2008, meng0823 wrote:

    'Liu Xiang is China's great hope for this summer's Olympics. That's a reasonably boring way of saying it - so let me put it another way: whether or not Liu Xiang wins gold may be the difference between the Games being a success for China and the Games being a triumph. '

    China won 32gold 17sliver 14bronze medals in last game.Liu Xiang just 1of the 32 gold medal winners in last Olympic.. ..

    'whether or not Liu Xiang wins gold may be the difference between the Games being a success for China'??
    What about the other '31' gold medal winners and those potential winners?Chineses love him because he is the best of what he is doing..they do put much hope on him but not as much as use Liu to measure the success of the game...

    P.s I start to wonder if I am a chinese anymore due to it has a huge difference between my own experince in China and those what you told people in your blog..

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  • 9. At 07:29am on 27 May 2008, richbeechina wrote:

    The Sichuan team won the 4x100 relay on sunday night to thunderous applause. A touching moment, even for a cynical expat!

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  • 10. At 4:44pm on 27 May 2008, Renee1112 wrote:

    Again, your wording "damage" make me uncomfortable. Our focus will be on the massive disaster for a very very long time, but our life will go on as usual, so does Olympics. As a common Chinese, what we can do is to donate some money and to be volunteers if possible. And then to work hard on our own work is a great support to own counry and the fellow citizens. Liuxiang is just doing his own career too. He is surely our great hope and is under great pressure, but that's all athletes should face. I think he can handle it well. His success belongs to the whole nation. We are all proud of him. Best wishes to him.

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  • 11. At 7:12pm on 27 May 2008, complexlei wrote:

    'Liu Xiang is China's great hope for this summer's Olympics'-----i found this sentence too funny.
    Liu xiang is certainly expected to win because he is very good at what he does. We believe he will win the champion in Olympics. He is no doubt under a lot pressure, but who isn't?

    Many advertisements of his shouldn't be there to support what you are arguing about the pressure he is facing~~~That's his job, you know?
    He has the confidence/impression for the seller to sell their product and he can make profit of it.
    I believe he can deal with it really well.
    I believe every Chinese athlete can do well in Olympics!

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  • 12. At 11:07am on 28 May 2008, lanjie828 wrote:

    Agree that Liu Xiang's under tremendous pressure, but don't agree whether he wins or not will make the difference of "success" and "triumph" to China. After all he is just one of the many athletes, and there are many other gold medals that we are counting on. There is an old saying in Chinese which says to win and to lose are both common for an army, and I believe that in case Liu Xiang did not win out (touch the wood) the majority of Chinese people would perfectly understand.

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  • 13. At 9:02pm on 15 Jun 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    Thanks for the reporting in China, James...

    I don't understand what the blog is about this time.

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