Searching for a new star?

By Lu Wenao Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-5 5:03:03

Athletics seeks new ways to take hold in China

Chinese runner Su Bingtian gestures after finishing third in the 100-meter dash at the Eugene Diamond League meet on May 30. Photo: IC

After Chinese hurdling great Liu Xiang called it quits in April, many were wondering when the country would be able to produce another athletic star. Now, it seems that the baton has been passed to sprinter Su Bingtian.

Su, 25, hit the headlines in the week after clocking a finish of ­under 10 seconds in the 100-­meter dash at the Eugene Diamond League meet.

The previous national record of 10.00 seconds was set by Zhang Peimeng ­during the semifinals of the Moscow World Championships in 2013.

Zhang, however, after bearing the pressure of breaking the 10-second barrier for two years, said he was "relieved" after watching Su's sensational performance.

The duo, grouped with Chen Shiwei and Xie Zhenye, won gold at the Incheon Asian Games last year with an Asian record-­breaking 37.99 seconds in the men's 4x100-meter relay.

But surprisingly, Su chose not to take part in the 100-­meter event at the Asian ­Championships, while Zhang is eyeing a sub-10.16-second finish that could see him ­qualifying for the World Championships in August in Beijing.

Also on the track, some fans are pinning their hopes on Liu's hometown mate Xie Wenjun to take over Liu's role. However, the Asian Games hurdle winner is yet to win a major title this season.

Hopeful names

Away from the track, names like long jumper Li Jinzhe, high jumper Zhang Guowei, pole vaulter Xue Changrui, shot putter Gong Lijiao, and hammer thrower Zhang Wenxiu and Wang Zheng are also beginning to grab attention.

Li Jinzhe and Zhang Guowei in particular are carrying China's hopes of a major breakthrough.

Last year, Li overshadowed several world leading long jumpers, including reigning world champion Aleksandr Menkov of Russia during the World Indoor Championships, to win silver. However, Li is now recovering from an injury to his left leg.

Zhang Guowei is another one to look out for. Earlier this year, the 24-year-old set a personal best of 2.35 meters in April. But at Eugene, he surpassed his record with a jump of 2.38 meters, only 1 centimeter short of China's 31-year-old national record.

Globally, sports stars have become the best way to promote their respective sports, but for China, there is still a lot to do to make athletics strong.

Sergey Bubka, vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, said that having more young people taking part would make the sport more popular in the country.

"The importance of personalities as role models in the development of athletics cannot be overestimated," Bubka told Xinhua.

The former pole vault world record holder believed Liu's prominent career has inspired many Chinese children and young people who took up athletics to follow in his footsteps, but also noted that stars cannot stay on top forever.

Grass-roots boom

Other than professional athletes, grass-roots running events burst onto the scene in the last two years.

Over 7,500 domestic running enthusiasts will be able to run alongside professional runners at the Beijing World Championships for the first 10 kilometers.

"The surge of marathons has shown the masses' eagerness to keep healthy," Chen Weiqiang, professor at the Division of Sports Science and Physical Education of Tsinghua University, told the Global Times.

Marathon events, in which amateur runners can run with professional athletes, are the highest-level event that ordinary people can participate in, said Chen.

But athletics in general still lacks popularity in China.

Wang Dawei, vice-president of the Chinese Athletic Association (CAA), said they are trying to find new ways to develop the sport in China.

"Stars are undoubtedly very helpful in promoting the sports," Wang told the Global Times. "It's important but it's not the only way."

Wang said that getting more fans to enjoy the speed and passion of athletics as well as learn the spirit of going higher, faster and stronger is the current priority for the CAA.

He also noted that the CAA is considering holding more single events in China, keeping the audiences focused on one competition, rather than comprehensive ones.

This year has seen the World Cross Country Championships held in Guiyang in Southwest China's Guizhou Province and the Race Walking Challenge in Taicang, East China's Jiangsu Province.

Social media has played an important role in allowing the world's most influential sports governing body to interact with enthusiasts, but the CAA only has its marathon division active on Sina Weibo.

Though the governing body still has a lot to do, efforts from grass-roots enthusiasts are making progress.

One shining example is Chen Penbin, who has completed seven ultra-marathons - courses with distances of more than 42.195 kilometers in extreme environments - in seven continents. He has vowed to run 100 marathons in 100 days from South China's Guangzhou to Beijing and has run more than 60 now.

He said he hopes to inspire more people to take part in running through his "stubborn" behavior.

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