Not Enough Liu Xiang?

Story written by EPelle

World and Olympic 110m hurdle champion Liu Xiang is happy to be outside of the house.

Ordinarily, news about athletes doing anything else than running or setting records doesn't make the press, but Liu Xiang is no everyday athlete.

China Daily has planted itself in Liu Xiang's every footstep over the past two years following his 2004 Olympic victory in Athens, reporting when world-record holder Liu Xiang has taken drug tests, when he has donated money, every change in his IAAF world ranking, and when he has stepped away from the track for brief appearance in commercial spots for a sponsor.

No stone is left uncovered by Chinese press when they have something fed to them from Liu Xiang's corner.

One practical reason for the information overload may be that Liu Xiang doesn't have much regular contact with the public, and is usually in an enclosed environment or training according to his coach, Sun Haiping.

"As long as we impose proper control, it [public engagements] won't sway him out of form," Haiping said to Xinhua after a charity event in Wuxi last Sunday, when a pair of Liu Xiang's gold-colored track shoes with his autograph fetched the equivalent of $18.750 in an auction for retired athletes insurance.

"It will be his last advertising activity before the 2008 Games," said a track and field official quoted by the Hubei Daily after Liu Xiang signed with Amway for the equivalent of $2.5M.

China Daily states that according to the official, the General Administration of Sports - China's sports administrative body - plans to control Liu Xiang's involvement in advertising by "tap[ping] his commercial value step by step but control[ing] the number of participation[s]."

This entire Liu Xiang hysteria - rightfully termed - is excellent for the Chinese as they look to a national hero to lead them forth to gold in Beijing two summers from now.

China touted Liu Xiang as a medal hopeful in 2004, but the 21-year-old Shanghai native kept to himself, allowing his feet to do the talking. When he won the 2006 IAAF World Athletics Final in a championship record 12,93 - his third-fastest ever, hundreds of Chinese waved flags and cheered wildly at the finish line, a small reflection of what is to come.

However, the control over Liu Xiang seems reminiscent of Rocky IV when Drago spoke of his mission against Balboa.

It is a matter of size. Evolution. Isn't it, gentlemen? Drago is the most perfectly trained athlete ever. This other man has not the size, the strength, the genetics to win. It is physically impossible for this little man to win. Drago is a look at the future!

Though no one has heard those exact ramblings from the Chinese leadership surrounding Liu Xiang, one begins to wonder how much propaganda will be shoveled out as he journeys to win the world championship gold medal which eluded him in Helsinki two years ago, and to set China on fire by attempting to win the gold on his home soil.

As the first-ever male Chinese athlete to win a gold medal in Olympic track and field history, Liu Xiang was given god-like status in a country of one billion inhabitants.

The IAAF reported that as well as his having received lucrative sponsorship contracts which placed him in the top-three in the national earnings list for entertainers and sports celebrities, a school text book, and a short theatrical play have been devised around his life.

Liu Xiang has also taken up a national publicity role fronting a campaign to increase public awareness about environmental protection, and also a civic position as an ambassador to promote his home city of Shanghai.

The athletics world shockingly learned Liu Xiang's name in Athens as the world junior-record holder (13,12 in Lausanne in 2002) equalled Colin Jackson's 12,91 world record time in stealing the gold from his much more experienced counterparts.

Time Asia reported following the Olympics that a Greek television announcer stammered following the surprise win.

"In first place, it's ... it's a Chinese man." Foiled by the X in Liu's given name, the broadcaster sidestepped the problem: "He is Mr. Liu. Congratulations to Mr. Liu from China," the Greek is reported as stating (source).

Liu Xiang may handle the increased propaganda (there are portraits of Liu Xiang plastered in several hundred places in Beijing) as the Olympics draw near. He apparently lives in a box, and has no real outside contact with the surrounding world. His coaches tell him when to rise, and when to set his body in the bed - a curfew to which Liu Xiang has been directly opposed. They tell him which appearances to make, and how much energy to spend at those limited functions.

There is no time bomb ticking inside of Liu Xiang as there was inside of the Russian monster "Drago". The hurdler has a way with people. The fighting machine killed people.

Fans and supporters are what make life for Liu Xiang interesting, and give him joy while he is visible in the public on those rare occasions he is permitted to be seen. The question which arises is whether or not Liu Xiang has more opportunities to race baby kangaroos who have stolen from little children and make Chinese television audiences applaud in the future.

According to Sun, commercials are a good way to promote an athlete away from the field, and Liu Xiang's increasing popularity is in large part due to his participation in such activities.

"But it must be within reason, and not excessive," Sun said.

First things first for the great Chinese hope.

Liu Xiang is an athlete before he is a spokesperson. He has a championship to win and his national ground to protect - two goals which surpass all sums of money, fame and notoriety combined - when the Olympic Games come to his country.

If Liu Xiang is able to make his country proud by winning the 2008 Olympic gold medal, Chinese nationalism will be at a feverish high. More will be requested of the star athlete - interviews, appearances, guest dinners, and so forth. Will his mentors close the door to future earning potential and affection by the Chinese people?

Liu Xiang has made a declaration that he would like to continue competing into his 30s. Surely he can not be shielded and hushed away until after he retires. There will not be enough of Liu Xiang to go around if he is kept behind closed doors the next four to six years.


2004 Olympic Bronze Medalist Cioncan Killed

Story written by EPelle

Romanian Maria Cioncan, who twice fought galliantly against Kelly Holmes at the Athens Olympics three years ago - finishing with a bronze medal in the 1.500m, was killed instantly yesterday in a car crash in Bulgaria as she traveled home from a training camp.

Cioncan's coach, Stefan Beregszaszy, was travelling separately in another vehicle, and confirmed the news to the IAAF soon thereafter. The shocking news spread quickly within the Romanian Athletics Federation, with Gabriela Szabo, a member of its managing board, stating to Romanian news agency Mediafax yesterday that the federation did not know Cioncan had been traveling through Bulgaria.

The 29-year-old, who was one of seven women in the 1.500m to set personal bests in the Athens final, ran a lifetime best of 3.58,39 in the Olympic final, one of the most exciting races in the Olympic Games as only the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona producing three or more sub-4 finishes.

Kelly Holmes won the final - her first of two gold medals - in 3.58,90. Russian Tatyana Tomashova finished second in 3.58,12. Six women in all broke 4.00,00 in the blazing final, with Poland's Anna Jakubczak, running 4.00,15 for seventh.

Cioncan won her semi-final heat in 4.06,69, forcing the second heat to send all seven of its qualifiers to the final with taxed legs as each of the athletes in semi-final two ran faster than Cioncan did in winning her heat. She also ran 4.06,68 to win heat three of the qualifying rounds.

Cioncan had
placed seventh in the 800m final five days before the 1.500m final, running 1.59,62 - her second sub-2.00 clocking of the Olympic Games.

Cioncan improved drastically in time and place in the 1.500m from her 2003 IAAF World Championships, where she placed ninth in the final with a time of 4.02,80.

A Romanian 800m and 1.500m national champion, Cioncan first broke on to the world scene with a showing at the 2001 IAAF World Indoor Championships, where she placed ninth in her heat with a 4.17,47 clocking, and made the semi-finals, clocking a 2.00,72 to place fifth in her heat.

She failed to make the final two years later in Birmingham, running 4.14,52 for fourth in her heat.

Cioncan won the European Cup A Final Super League in the 1.500m in 2002 (4.03,74) and won the 800m three years later in Florence (2.00,88).

Cioncan's excellent mark at the 2004 Olympic Games put her name in the rich Romanian tradition of middle distance running along the side of Natalia Marasescu, Paula Ivan, Doina Melinte, Maricica Puica, Szabo and Violetta Szekely.

Though her time was an excellent mark among the all-time greats to ever run the event - Cioncan had the fifth-best Romanian mark - she recorded "only" the 15th-best performance among her countrywomen.

The Olympic bronze was Cioncan's crowning moment as an athlete, and she helped use her notoriety to bring justice to greater causes.

Cioncan participated in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2004 Special Olympics in Bucharest - the National Games - held at Iolanda Balas Soter Stadium by carrying the "Flame of Hope" to the cauldron with Special Olympics Romania athlete Andrei Nita.

The event was attended by a host of dignitaries, including legendary national sportswoman Iolanda Balas Soter, the stadium’s namesake.

Cioncan's presence will be missed on the field as well as with her personal charitable endeavors.

2004 Olympic Women's 1.500m Final:

  1. Kelly Holmes (Gbr) 3.57,90 (Personal Best and National Record)
  2. Tatyana Tomashova (Rus) 3.58,12 (Personal Best)
  3. Maria Cioncan (Rom) 3.58,39 (Personal Best)
  4. Natalya Yevdokimova (Rus) 3.59,05 (Personal Best)
  5. Daniela Yordanova (Bul) 3.59,10 (Personal Best)
  6. Lidia Chojecka (Pol) 3.59,27 (Season Best)
  7. Anna Jakubczak (Pol) 4.00,15 (Personal Best)
  8. Elvan Abeylegesse (Tur) 4.00,67
  9. Carmen Douma-Hussar (Can) 4.02,31 (Personal Best)
  10. Natalia Rodriguez (Spa) 4.03,01 (Season Best)
  11. Olga Yegorova (Rus) 4.05,65
  12. Hasna Benhassi (Mor) 4.12,90

Cioncan's 1.500m Progression:

  • 2005 -- 4.07,39, Firenze, 19-June
  • 2004 -- 3.58,39, Athens, 28-August
  • 2003 -- 4.02,80, Paris Saint-Denis, 31-August
  • 2002 -- 4.02,10, Bucharest, 09-June
  • 2001 -- 4.12,24, Funchal, 30-June
  • 2000 -- 4.06,20, Bucharest, 06-August
  • 1999 -- 4.14,00, Göteborg, 31-July


Australian Vaulter Grigorieva Retires

Story written by EPelle

Australian pole vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva, the 2006 Commonwealth Games silver medalist, has announced her retirement from athletics reports Eurosport (story).

Russian-born Grigorieva, 31, moved with her then-husband Viktor Chistiakov to Australia in 1997, and won a silver medal for her adopted country three years later in the 2000 Olympic Games - the same evening national hero Cathy Freeman won the 400m in stunning fashion.

Grigorieva's rise and stay at the top took a tumultuous tumble in 2004.

Grigorieva split from her husband in 2004 - a year which she also struggled to manage any decent jumps in the vault. So far reaching were her troubles that the Olympic silver medallist and 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist could not jump high enough in 2004 to make the Athens Olympic team.

She endured troubling hamstring injuries along with private life issues which plagued her lead-up to Athens, and she contemplated quitting pole vaulting three years ago. However, her Italian-based coach, Vitali Petrov, encouraged her to keep going.

"I found myself in a very difficult situation," she said to the Sydney Morning Herald prior to the Commonwealth Games last season.

"I had a choice to give up or do something about it. And I wasn't about to give up."

Grigorieva's woes didn't stop mounting in 2004, as she broke her finger in 2005.

However, showing great resolve to endure and turn out better on the other side, she gutted out a performance in the IAAF World Championships good enough for fifth place. Despite the injury, Grigorieva jumped 4.47m in London that season - her best vault in nearly four years.

Though Grigorieva mustered out fantastic efforts last season following her rebirth as a human and in the sport - "I died and I was reborn," she stated - last season was a difficult one for the news-making star, as after her Commonwealth Games runner-up finish, a crook broke into her home in Brisbane and stole her silver medal as well as her world championships and Olympic medals. It was later returned.

The incident "deeply touched" Grigorieva, as a group of students at a local university began making posters to track down the villian.

"Yes, I've got medals missing, but there are a lot of good things coming out of the situation - kids learning how to help and support."

Helping and supporting are endeavors which Grigorieva would like to take more time doing, states Eurosport, as she is apparently retiring to pursue her business and charity interests.

Grigorieva is the Founding Patron of the charity Gift 4 Dreams, a non-profit organisation which uses sport and healthy activity as a means to inspire disadvantaged young Australians to build healthier, happier and safer communities in Australia according to Grigorieva. She is also a charitable donator to Camp Quality, Variety Club and Kids Helpline.

A three-time Australian Championships gold medalist, Grigorieva was born on 1975-October-8 in Lenningrad, Russia and competed in the 400m hurdles in her youth, running 58,54 in St. Petersburg in 1996. She emigrated to Australia and began pole vaulting at age 21. One year later, in New York, she placed third at the 1998 Goodwill Games.

Grigorieva has five international medals to her credit, collecting a silver at the above-mentioned Goodwill Games; a bronze from the 1999 IAAF World Championships (4.45m); a silver at the 2000 Olympic Games (4.55m); gold from the 2002 Commonwealth Games (4.35m); and silver from last year's Commonwealth Games (4.35m).

Grigorieva's seasonal efforts:

  • 2006 - 4.58m, Daegu, 28-September
  • 2005 - 4.47m, London (CP), 22-July
  • 2004 - 4.30m, Runaway Bay, 20-February
  • 2003 - 4.23m, Malmö, 12-August
  • 2002 - 4.46m, Salamanca, 10-July
  • 2001 - 4.56m, Yokohama 15-September
  • 2000 - 4.55m, Sydney 25-September
  • 1999 - 4.50m, Salamanca 15-July
  • 1998 - 4.35m, Brisbane 21-March
  • 1997 - 3.90m, Adelaide 06-December

Grigorieva's homepage

Thörnblad Sets - and Loses - WL on Saturday

Story written by EPelle

Friidrott.se reported last evening that Linus Thörnblad, fourth at the 2006 European Outdoor Championships here on his home turf in Sweden, won the Adeccospel in Malmö with a new world-leading 2.31m clearance (results link).

The mark, which improved by one centimetre Russian Ivan Uchov's previous world-leading mark of 2.30m set 7-January in Yekaterinaburg, was a season's best for the Swede, who then had the bar raised to 2.35m.

Thörnblad, who turns 22 on 6-March, took two very good attempts at the would-be personal best, narrowly missing a mark which would have been the equal third-best all-time indoors for Swedes, tying Staffan Strand's mark from five years ago.

Thörnblad, the 2006 IAAF World Indoor Championships bronze medalist, must have felt an urgent need to raise the bar, as his hours-old world-leading mark was short-lived when Russian Andrey Tereshin jumped 2.33m at the Moravská Daylong Tour in the Czech Republic.

Hometown favourites Jaroslav Baba, Svatoslav Ton and Tomas Janku - who finished a surprising second at the 2006 European Championships ahead of Stefan Holm, and thus denied Thörnblad a medal spot - finished far out of the running, with clearances of 2.20m, 2.24m and 2.27m respectively.

Tereshin, who finished second at the 2005 World Indoor Championships in Moscow (2.35m), failed twice at 2.30m, and took three attempts to clear 2.33m. He had the fourth-best jump (2.36m) indoors in 2006.

Croatian Blanka Vlasic made her final effort at 1.96m count, as she defeated 2006 European silver medalist Venelina Veneva, who also cleared the same height. Vlasic passed at 1.98m, and failed to clear the 2.00m barrier.

The high jump promises to be a fantastic event this season as Russian Andrej Silnov, the 2006 European Champion, having spoken of taking the world record up to 2.46m (IAAF report), and the European Indoor Championships final expected to rekindle the magic which saw Stefan Holm jump 2.40m two years ago in Madrid.

Fifteen athletes jumped 2.30m or higher indoors in 2006, led by Russian Jaroslav Rybakov's 2.37m winning performances in Moscow and Arnstadt.

Ukhov finished second to Rybakov in Arnstadt, setting a personal best of 2.37m. Ukrainian Andriy Sokolovskyy led Tereshin and Silnov at 2.36m, with Thörnblad occupying the six spot on the 2006 world indoor list with a 2.34m clearance from Banská Bystrica, the meet where Sokolovskyy set his indoor best.

Thörnblad, who won the 2006 World Athletics final, is trained by Stanislaw Szczyrba, and has now jumped over 2.30m on 12 occasions.

Moravská Daylong Tour
Men's Results:

1. Andrey Tereshin RUS 2.33m; 2. Peter Horák SVK 2.27m; Victor Moya CUB 2.24m; 3. Aleksandr Shustov RUS 2.24m; 4. Viktor Shapoval UKR 2.24m; 5. Aleksey Dmitrik RUS 2.24m; 6. Stanislav Malyarenko RUS 2.20m; 7. Tomáš Janků CZE 2.20m; 8. Andrea Bettinelli ITA 2.20m; 9. Svatoslav Ton CZE 2.20m; 10. Kwaku Boateng CAN 2.20m; 11. Jaroslav Bába CZE 2.15m; 12. BenChallenger GBR 2.15m; 13. Luboš Benko SVK 2.10m; 14. Jiří Křehula CZE 2.10m

Women's Results:

1. Blanka Vlasic CRO 1.96m; 2. Venelina Veneva BUL 1.96m; 3. Yekaterina Kuntsevich RUS 1.94m; 4. Marina Aitova KAZ 1.92m; 5. Romana Dubnová CZE 1.87m; 5. Oana Pantelimon ROM 1.87m; 7. Andrea Ispan ROM 1.80m; 7. Svetlana Shkolina RUS 1.80m; 9. Maresa Cadienhead CAN 1.80m; 10. Elena Brambilla ITA 1.75m

Full results found here.
IAAF story here.
Linus Thörnblad's homepage.

Thörnblad's 10-best marks:

  1. 2.34m - European Champs-Final, Göteborg - 2006-08-09 (4)
  2. 2.34m - Banska Bystrica, Slovakia – 2006-02-14 (2)
  3. 2.33m - World Athletic Final, Stuttgart - 2006-09-10 (1)
  4. 2.33m - Indoor World Champs -Final, Moscow – 2006-03-11 (3)
  5. 2.33m - Adeccospelen, Malmö, - 2006-01-21 (1)
  6. 2.31m - Swedish Indoor Champs, Malmö - 2005-02-12 (1)
  7. 2.31m - Telenorgalan, Karlskrona - 2005-06-12 (1)
  8. 2.30m - Finnkampen, Helsinki - 2006-08-25 (1)
  9. 2.30m - MAI-Galan, Malmö - 2006-08-22 (1)
  10. 2.30m - Lundahoppet, Lund 2006-06-22 (1)

American Miler Webb Wins at the Armory

Story written by EPelle

American miler Alan Webb had a red bull's eye in the form of a number “one” printed on his race number yesterday at the New Balance Games at the New York Armory, and drew the inside lane around the red banked track.

He was first on the line and sporting a new look - a shaved head, and was the first athlete of the field of 11 home to the finish line on the sixth anniversary of his birth into the elite ranks.

Webb was the most distinguished athlete in the race, and the centre of attention - having retured to the exact spot to the exact day where, six years earlier, he made USA history by becoming the first high school athlete to run under four minutes indoors (3.59,86). Any move the 24-year-old was to make would be closely monitored and countered, it was thought.

However, the 2005 IAAF World Championship 1.500m finalist (ninth) and American 2-mile record-holder displayed excellent strength and took on his pursuers with relative ease over the mile, clocking 3 minutes 56,7 seconds (
race video) - a new personal best indoors, and his second sub-4 in as many races this young 2007 indoor season.

“It’s a personal record indoors,” quotes The New York Times, “and it’s only January. It’s the first time I’ve won in New York since high school. I couldn’t believe it. It’s just what I wanted. It’s not perfect, but it tells me I’m moving in the right direction. The competition gets more and more competitive.”

Kenyan Eliud Njubi, who had run 3.58,78 in Arkansas last weekend, was second in 3.58,64, and had no zip in his legs to catch Webb on the final lap.

“I was always right on Alan’s tail, and I thought I could beat him. But when I started moving on the last lap, my turnover wasn’t good and I couldn’t go. But I’m happy with my race, even though I lost.”

Webb responded by stating, “I was ready for him. I wasn’t going to let him pass me. I’m moving forward.”

Webb is definitely moving forward - one race at a time - as he pursues his dream of winning a medal in Osaka, Japan at this summer's IAAF World Championships, and takes that further to the Olympic Games in Beijing next summer in hopes of turning his flame out in 2006 and his tactical errors of 2004 great learning opportunities, but distant memories.

Skipping the 2006 indoor season was meant to provide Webb more strength work as he contended with cross country courses and longer interval training in an effort to build his stamina to a level where he could respond to moves and kicks despite not feeling ready to cover a move.

Webb suffered a bout with anemia during the late winter months and was forced to miss the USA Cross Country Championships, but he recovered enough to demonstrate excellent strength preparations when he set a 10.000m personal best of 27.34.72 at Stanford University on 30-April.

His achievement was short-lived, however, as he then never fully recovered from a hamstring strain following his phenominal victory over American Dathan Ritzenhein, with Webb pushing it through two more races before missing the bulk of the season - one which he had planned on using to run "very fast".

Webb finished his 2006 season with a solo mile victory in Ireland fighting the wind and the elements.

The great testament to Webb's strength was in his even-split running yesterday, as he knocked off times of 58,7-60-60-58 around the banked track - chopping nearly one second from his previous best, a 3.57,52 (2004), and eclipsed his previous Armory best (3.59,49) by almost three seconds as he improved his best placing up one spot from a runner-up finish in 2004.

Irishwoman Mary Cullen took the women's race in 4.32,29 over American Sarah Hall (4.32,68) and Canadian Carmen Douma-Housar (4.32,78).

The 2007 indoor season will be a pure joy ride for Webb, as he ticks off the next three week-ends with mile races at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games, the 100th Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden - where he will face American Bernard Lagat and Australian Craig Mottram - and the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA.

Previous Webb entry: Alan Webb to Return to the Armory (
blog link)

Select Results of 2007 New Balance Games Mile

Elite Men:

  1. Alan Webb, Nike, 3.56,70
  2. Eliud Njubi, Westchester Track, 3.58,64
  3. Adrian Blinco, New Balance, 4.00,21
  4. Josh McAdams, New Balance, 4.00,59
  5. Andy Baddeley, New Balance, 4.01,17
  6. James Thie, NYAC, 4.01,66

Elite Women:

  1. Mary Cullen, Reebok, 4.32,29
  2. Sara Hall, Asics, 4.32,68
  3. Carmen Douma-Hauser, New Balance, 4.32,78
  4. Hilary Stellingwerff, New Balance, 4.32,90
  5. Marina Muncan, New Balance, 4.35,43
  6. Katrina Wooten, New Balance, 4.35,52

High School Boys:

  1. Chris Moen, Walter Johnson, 4.16,76

High School Girls:

  1. Danielle Tauro, Southern Regional, 4.46,13