Ma army runners perform dismally
ALL but one of China's once-formidable record-holding women distance runners have crashed out of world competition, losing the chance to compete in the next World Championships after dismal performances at home.
China's star 'Ma Family Army' who broke with their tough coach Ma Junren amid acrimonious squabbles last year, all made poor showings at the national trials in Taiyuan, northern Shanxi province, Xinhua news agency said yesterday.
Among the most prominent runners to lose the chance to compete in the next World Championships in Sweden was 1,500-metre world champion Liu Dong.
World 10,000 metres record holder Wang Junxia, who won the 5,000 metres on Thursday, but in a slow time, pulled out of the 10,000 metres final on Saturday with a leg injury.
She, however, scraped into the team to defend her title next August in Gothenburg, Xinhua said.
She later told reporters she was confident of taking gold in August but did not expect to set another world record.
Wang had led the breakaway from Ma with athletes accusing him of abusing them in brutal training sessions and pocketing their winnings. She had started her own group.
In her last appearance, Wang straggled home in fifth place in an international road relay in Beijing in March with newspapers pouring scorn on the athlete who slashed 42 seconds off the 10,000-metre world record in 1993.
'Almost all former Ma's army star runners displayed unbelievable poor showings and lost their chances to go for the World Championships,' Xinhua commented.
Liu Dong, world 1,500-metre champion in Germany two years ago, seemed to lose all her power in Saturday's 800-metre heat, finishing 16th with a time of two minutes and 14.08 seconds, nearly 19 seconds behind her best time.
It was her first race since Ma kicked her out of his army at the end of 1993. He has since asked her to return.
'I don't know why. I'm dog-tired,' the 21-year-old runner said after the heat. 'I have only trained for two months after my long lay-out. I'm confident of recovering in two months.' But her chance to compete at the World Championships has gone.
Liu, regarded as one of China's top running talents by Ma, only restarted training two months ago, joining the rebel team headed by Wang Junxia.
The group were training in southwestern Yunnan province but failed to keep up with the strict regime set by Ma Junren, Xinhua said.