SHANGHAI: An intensive warmup followed by solid strides between hurdles and characteristically cool facial expressions.
Like he has a thousand times before, reigning men's 110m hurdles world champion and former world record holder Liu Xiang flew over the hurdles swiftly and squarely during an open training class at Xinzhuang Training Base of Shanghai.
Liu Xiang, China's 110m hurdles world champion and Olympic gold medal winner, rides a bike out of a training base in Shanghai to escape a media throng yesterday. Sun Haiping, Liu's coach, said during a press conference the hurdler was recovering well from his foot injury but is not yet 100 percent fit. [Gao Erqiang/China Daily]
Except for the fact that he was not wearing spikes, it recalled to mind a healthy Liu who stormed to inspiring victories at the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2007 Osaka World Championships. But with his Achilles tendon injury on his right foot still yet to fully heal, Liu is under doctors' orders to train in sneakers.
After being forced to withdraw from the heats at the Beijing Olympics, the 26-year-old is eager to return to the track, but according to the results from his latest physical check, is still not ready. Putting on a determined face, together with his team he is trying to convince himself and the world that he can rise to the top again.
"Our working team and Liu himself have never given up," coach Sun declared at the media briefing after training. "Liu's training today was satisfactory, although it was only 80 to 90 percent of his previous training quantity."
The Shanghainese did everything to please more than 100 media that swarmed to the training center in eastern Shanghai. Toward the end of the session, he even ripped off his shirt and ran topless to show how much effort he has been putting in.
Last week, Liu advanced the date of his physical check to avoid media focus, prompting speculation he would announce an early retirement yesterday.
But an optimistic Liu pays little heed to rumors.
"Liu is good at self control and self adjustment, which is good for his rehabilitation," said Yang Peigang, director of Shanghai Athletics Administrative Center, who witnessed Liu's recovery at Xinzhuang Base everyday.
"His mood in training is the same as before and he is very relaxed," Yang added.
Liu's enormous popularity was also evident in the huge contingent of fans - including several from overseas - who rushed to the Xinzhuan center to watch their hero.
Juliette Bourque, a French student studying business at East China Normal University in Shanghai, learnt of the open session while visiting his parents and went to watch her Chinese idol in person.
"He is the first Chinese to win the Olympic gold medal (in the event). I thought it's interesting, since normally it is always black guys that win. So I started to follow him. He is very young and there is so much pressure on his shoulders. So, all his stories are very interesting," said Bourque, who learnt of Liu two years ago during an internship in the nearby city of Hangzhou.
To escape the media after training, Liu rode away on a bicycle without saying a word, prefering to give victory symbol.
Although Bourque didn't get an opportunity to get close to him, a 40-minute one-man show was enough. "I'm happy that I saw him, although it is a little sad (that I didn't meet with him)," she said. "I won't come again since I don't want to bother him. I will give him my blessings."
Liu also received good wishes from former Olympic champion Edwin Moses.
"It's possible (for Liu to comeback and reach the same height as before)," the two-time Olympic 400m hurdles champion told China Daily earlier.
"The first thing he has to do is to get healthy again. And then, I think secondly, sometimes, athletes have some psychological problems that go along with the injury. That can hold you back. You have to overcome that as well."
Coach Sun already has a plan to ease his fellow hurdler back into the rigors of racing.
"If Liu's physical condition allows, we will enter Liu in some small events to help him first get back the feeling of competition," Sun said.
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