Liu second only to Yao in the money stakes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 September, 2004, 12:00am

National hero Liu Xiang is about to become the second-highest paid athlete on the mainland behind NBA superstar Yao Ming.

According to Forbes China, the 21-year-old Shanghai native, whose world record-equalling display in winning the men's 110 metres hurdles was considered the best achievement by the 407-member Chinese team in Athens, should rake in millions as he becomes China's first athletics superstar.

Forbes believes his Athens' victory will be worth at least five million yuan as he receives property, cash awards and fees through endorsements. His appearance fees at Grand Prix athletic meetings is also expected to soar and figures suggest he will collect at least 2.8 million yuan this year alone on the track. It's a far cry from Liu's humble beginnings when he used to sleep on the floor as a youngster in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Shanghai.

His parents paid 10 yuan a month for the quarters. But Liu's success has moved his family away from poverty and even before his gold medal in Athens, his lifestyle had changed dramatically. But it is going to change even more now.

'I don't consider all these material things important to me. What's important is that I win honour for my country and I hope to win more honour in Beijing 2008,' said Liu.

Still, Liu's wealth is far less than basketball giant Yao of the Houston Rockets, who tops Forbes' Chinese celebrity rankings by a long way.

Yao's income last year was an estimated US$14.5 million, which is believed to come from his salary with the Rockets and endorsements with Nike, Apple Computer and Visa. Yao also endorses a number of Chinese products at home.

Actress Zhang Ziyi, who has starred in such internationally-acclaimed movies as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was second overall in China with US$3.14 million.

But hurdles star Liu was a clear second among the top mainland athletes, who are expected to reap in the rewards for their exploits in Athens.

Liu, whose time of 12.91 seconds in Athens equalled that of Britain's Colin Jackson, recorded in 1993 at the World Championships, has already been promised two apartments in Shanghai by the National Sports Committee and by the Shanghai municipal government. Big brand names are already lining up to sign him.

The Shanghai government will also reward him with a cash award of US$500,000. Even Hong Kong tycoon Henry Fok Tung-ying has got on the act, promising US$80,000 to Liu for his electrifying win - the first gold medal for a male athlete on the Olympic track.

Liu stays in a three-bedroom apartment in Shanghai. His family moved there six years ago, but the hurdles star couldn't even afford new clothes and only had one pair of sports shoes when he first started running.