Athletics triumph shows benefits of international training

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 September, 2015, 5:13am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 September, 2015, 5:13am

The Bird's Nest, the spectacular main stadium of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, remains an icon of modern China. Filled to capacity, as it was for the recent world athletics championships, it is a reminder of one of the country's proudest achievements. Empty and a little soulless as it usually is, it can evoke the disappointment felt when China came away from its own Games without a track and field gold medal, after injury ended a bid by Liu Xiang to defend his 110 metres hurdles title won at Athens in 2004.

If athletics has continued to look like the Achilles heel of the nation that topped the overall medals table then, the world championships have prompted a rethink. China finished an unexpectedly successful week with a record nine medals - more than double the total from Moscow two years ago.

Liu Hong won China's only title in the 20km walk. But Chinese won medals across the disciplines, including a first-ever in the long jump - a bronze for 19-year-old Wang Jianan.

Previous results at the highest international level have been marked by lean pickings on the running track. It is one area where the state-run sports regime has fallen well short. That is until the glamour event at the world championships, when the diminutive Su Bingtian became the first Asian to reach the 100 metres final. He finished ninth and last, but since most international sprinters never make this or the Olympic final, he is an inspiration to up-and-coming young athletes. The implied improvement was confirmed when he and three compatriots finished third in the 4x100 metre relay, before being promoted to second when the Americans were disqualified.

If there is an argument that Chinese athletes may benefit from more scope and encouragement to compete and train internationally, it may be found in a pair of two-month training camps that the relay squad spent in the United States. Jamaican Olympic and world sprint champion Usain Bolt complimented the Chinese runners on "one of the smoothest baton changes I have ever seen - that's one of the reasons they won a medal".