Ma's Army on the march
WHEN China's athletics team takes to the track over the next two weeks, it will have an outstanding record to defend - and a talented army to do the task.
In its number will be the cohort of middle and long-distance runners that has become known as Ma's Army, after its coach Ma Junren.
Among its ranks is world record breaker and maker Wang Junxia, who, within the space of a month last year, put 42 seconds between herself and the old 10,000 metres world record.
Tomorrow, crowds at the Asian Games at Hiroshima will get a glimpse of Wang and her teammates for the first time since the runners began training in secret in Liaoning Province, northeast China, weeks ago.
Great things are expected from Ma's Army, and its two big performers Wang and Qu Yunxia.
Wang set the 10,000 m world record at the Seventh National Games in Beijing in September last year when she was only 20. In shattering the old mark, she became the first woman to run the distance in under 30 minutes.
Her time of 29 minutes 31.78 seconds was more than a minute faster than the personal best she clocked to win the world championship in Stuttgart, Germany, the month before.
She holds the world 3,000 m record - 8:6.11 - too. Also set in Beijing, it was more than 16 seconds faster than Soviet runner Tatanya Kazankina's mark, which had stood for nine years.
Qu holds the world 1,500 m record that, at 3:50.46, was 2.01 seconds faster than Kazankina's 13-year-old mark. She set the record at the same Beijing meet.
Qu is also the world champion at 3,000 m.