China’s hopes pinned on nation’s new track star

By Southern People Weekly – Agencies Source:Agencies Published: 2015-7-3 5:03:02

Su Bingtian (right) trains for the 4X100 meter relay. Photo: CFP

No one was more surprised than Su Bingtian when he saw the headlines that crowned him "China's Second Flying Man."

In May, at the Prefontaine Classic competition in Eugene, US, the track and field athlete ran 100 meters in 9.99 seconds. He became the first Asian athlete to run under 10 seconds, which is  widely considered the standard for elite sprinters.

The last time a Chinese athlete achieved this milestone was in 2004, when Liu Xiang won a gold medal in Athens in the 110-meter hurdles. Inevitably, Su was compared to Liu, and the country has high hopes for him, whether he wants to be in the limelight or not.

Asian ability

China has never dominated in track and field events. Some say it's because of differences in the builds of athletes.

Internationally, a lot of research has been done on the physical differences between various ethnicities, but these differences are very minor compared with the differences caused by education, culture, economic status and living habits, Lu Yifan, a professor of Beijing Physical Education University, told the Technology Daily.

Some have questioned whether Su, who is 1.72 meters, is too short to become an elite runner. Yi Jiandong, a sports commentator, insists this is not a determining factor.

What decide one's running speed include step frequency and length, and one can't simply think of being short as a disadvantage, he told the Technology Daily.

Su said during his training sessions, he's run faster than 10 seconds before. He contributed breaking the 10-second barrier to change of running technique.

In December 2014, while training abroad, Su started changing his running rhythm. He used to run with his left foot in front, but then started leading with his right foot.

He had consulted his Chinese and foreign coaches about this issue earlier, in May 2014. He had run 100 meters in 10.16 seconds and felt that he could not run any faster. Su believed that changing his technique might help.

What sounds like an easy switch is more complicated than most people think, Su said.

"It's like a right-handed person trying to suddenly write left-handed," he told the People's Daily.

Lifelong dreams

Su entered the world of track and field by chance. When he was in middle school in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, the teacher always kept students after school for extra lessons. But Su noticed that he didn't keep back members of the school's sports teams, prompting him to try to get into the track and field team, he told

Back then, he didn't have access to good training facilities and had to run on dirt roads. But Su won competitions between middle schools in his hometown. In turn, in 2004, he was accepted by a professional sports school, and was recruited by the Guangdong provincial track and field team in 2006, when he was only 17.

He made his professional debut in 2009, running for the Guangdong team at the East Asian Games. In 2011, during the National Track and Field Athletics Championship, Su finished in first place in the 100 meter sprint and broke the national record with a time of 10.16 seconds.

Ever since then, Su dreamed of running 100 meters in under 10 seconds.

Even though Su made a strong debut and rose through the ranks quickly, he has nevertheless suffered from setbacks.

In August 2013, Su's colleague, Zhang Peimeng, ran in a time of 10 seconds at the semifinals of the track and field World Championship Games. A few minutes later, Su was sent off the field due to a false start.

This had a huge impact on Su. Whenever he ran in the future, he was so afraid of jumping the gun that he reacted slower than he should have. Su dealt with his setbacks with training. He went to the US to work on changing his running technique.

Future prospects

For a long time, there wasn't much excitement about track and field in China.

But in the Athens Olympics in 2004, Liu Xiang won first place in the 110 meters hurdles, becoming the first Chinese male track and field athlete to win an Olympic gold medal.

Overnight, he became a star. The media dubbed him "The Flying Man" and every time he competed, hundreds of thousands tuned in to watch.

Even after Liu Xiang retired, his personal life was still of interest to the Chinese public. When he got divorced a few days ago, the news made headlines on several websites.

After running 100 meters in 9.99 seconds, Su was hailed as a hero, according to the Southern People Weekly. His alma mater, Ji'nan University, threw a reunion party for him, for which students had to buy tickets. One hotel in his hometown put his photo on an advertisement for a special dish.

China has waited two years for one of its athletes to go from 10 seconds to 9.99 seconds. Two years ago, Zhang Peimeng ran 10 seconds at an international tournament in Moscow, but lost to a French athlete by just 0.001 seconds and didn't make it to the final.

Right after the competition in Eugene, Su traveled to Wuhan for an Asian track and field tournament, then headed to Guangzhou for another competition. He also took part in the national team's training for the 4x100 meter relay and will participate in future competitions. For Su, life goes on as usual.

Even though the breakthrough is significant, Su and his coach do not believe it's enough. In track and field, 9.99 seconds wouldn't even get you into an international final. For Su, that means even more training and sharpening of his skills.

Whenever he is asked by journalists what his next goal is, Su always replies, "I will keep trying and keep seeking breakthroughs."

Southern People Weekly - Agencies
Newspaper headline: Flying to the finish

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