Edition: English | 中文简体 | 中文繁体 Монгол
Homepage > Sports Video

New generation of Olympic track superstars

Reporter: Brittyn Clennet 丨 CCTV.com

08-08-2016 05:26 BJT

Full coverage: 2016 Rio Olympics

The best performance by China's track and field team in the Olympic Games was in Athens in 2004. Hurdler Liu Xiang and 1,000-meter women's runner Xing Huina both won gold medals. In the last decade, Chinese athletes are gradually closing the gap with some of the world's best. Sprinter Su Bingtian became the first Asian-born athlete to officially beat the 10 second barrier in the men's 100 meters. CCTV reporter talked to Su and his teammates about their achievements and their plans to impress at Rio.
This is how it all started.

It was a on a track like this at the Olympics in Athens where Chinese hurdler Li Xiang rose to fame and ignited a love of athletics in China for the very first time. But it was also on a track like this where Liu fell and crashed out of the sport altogether, dashing the hopes of many Chinese sports fans.But with this new batch of Chinese athletic hopefuls and the Rio Olympics around the corner, many are asking who will be the next big athletics star?

Chinese sports fans are used to the country’s athletes dominating Olympic events like table tennis, badminton and diving. This time, at the Rio Olympics, they’re hoping to see prowess on the athletics track as well, and nothing has spurred that hope more, than the Chinese sprint relay team’s success at the IAAF World Championships last year.

"We won the silver metal in the 4x100m relay at the 2015 IAAF World Championships. That was a great encouragement. The memory’s still fresh," said Yuan Guoqiang, head coach of China National Men's Sprint Relay Team.

"Before the final, I felt pretty nervous. It was my first time in such an important competition. But when I stepped onto the track, I didn’t think about anything, except running," said Muo Youxue, member of China National Men's Sprint Relay Team.

Reaching the final was already a record. It was the first time in history that our sprint relay team had reached the final of a major international competition. The whole team was in great physical condition. We were determined to do our best. Also, the event was being held in Beijing, at our home stadium. The vibe was great," said Xie Zhenye, member China National Men's Sprint Relay Team.

"I went first, then watched my teammates. They were doing pretty well, and I thought
we had a chance," said Muo Youxue.

"I couldn’t see who hit the finish line first, as my view was blocked. Then I heard the whole stadium cheering," said Xie Zhenye.

"Zhang Peimeng went last. I saw him, the moment he hit the line, coming in third," said Muo Youxue.

"Finishing third was a surprise. Then we heard the US had been disqualified. Coming second was an even bigger surprise," said Xie Zhenye.

It was a landmark moment for the four athletes. Suddenly, they were household names, idolized by 1.3 billion home fans. Several months before the Rio Games kick off, we spent time with the team in Shanghai. They’d just finished a training camp in the US, and this was to be their first appearance in China this year – at the IAAF Diamond League Athletics championship.

"How would you describe the dynamic of the teammates?"

"It was tough at the very beginning, trying to get along and run together. But after a year or two of training together we crossed a line and everything started going well. Now we’re like brothers, or old friends. We’re relaxed, and sometimes play pranks on each other," said Xie Zhenye.

"Which teams are competing?"

"You haven’t seen? The US, Jamaica, the Bahamas."

"I didn’t know."

22-year-old Xie Zhenye is from Zhejiang province. He may be a little more camera-shy than his team mates, but his talent as a 200-metre runner makes him a huge asset for the team. He won gold for China at the Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010. The achievement was all the more remarkable, considering that he’d missed a whole year of training due to a serious injury.

"It may sound like nothing, but the experience was tough, because everyone else was training. You’re alone, doing rehab work in the gym, and you need a lot more mental strength to keep going. I’d say, it’s thanks to my love for this sport and my desire to prove I’m not weak that I could get through it," said Xie Zhenye.

The second member of the team is Mo Youxue. At 20 years old, he’s the youngest in the group. Mo comes from Guangdong province, and he says it’s his family’s support that has helped him through the tough times.

"My performances weren’t very good at first. I almost lost my place in the Shenzhen team. But my family still supported me. Their encouragement convinced me to stick at it, even when the coach criticized me," said Muo Youxue.

Among this group of Chinese athletes is Su Bingtian, who made history last year at an event in Europe, when he became the first Asian sprinter to finish the 100 metres in under 10 seconds. Then, at the World Championships in Beijing, he reached the final, finishing ninth. In that race, the 26-year-old from Guangdong province found himself chasing the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt.

"He moves well. While training him I found that he works hard and learns fast. The downside is probably his height. However, the hard training compensates for this,
and so do his power and pace," said Yuan Guoqiang.

Another athlete who has now managed to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 metres, is 29-year-old Zhang Peimeng. The Beijinger, a 200-metre specialist, won his preliminary race at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow in 10.04 seconds, equaling the national record at the time.

"For an Asian athlete it’s really hard to reach a 100m final. It’s something you dream of," said Yuan Guoqiang.

Winning the silver medal in Beijing last year, shot the relay team to fame. They’ve been pursued by cameras and hordes of fans ever since. The moment they enter the athletics arena, they’re the centre of attention.

"I feel the pressure. On the one hand it’s a huge encouragement for the team. But the effect can easily turn negative. This year in particular, there’ve been a lot of appearances away from the track. It can be tough," said Yuan Guoqiang.

"I do feel the pressure a bit. People’s expectations have changed. In the past, if we got to the final that was good enough. But now you have to win medals, preferably silver or gold," said Xie Zhenye.

One athlete who’s familiar with that level of pressure is Liu Xiang. He won Olympic Gold in 2004, but failed even to complete his races at the following two Games.

We caught up with a friend and former rival of Liu’s, Aries Merritt. The American world record holder was very frank about the troubles Liu faced.

"Maybe too much pressure, he’s a national hero, he carried a lot. He had his up and downs, I have my up and downs, that’s sports," said Aries Merritt, member of USA Track & Field Team.

And Liu Xiang isn’t China’s only athlete who at times has been overwhelmed by the pressure and expectations. Liu, along with former tennis champion Li Na and ex-NBA star Yao Ming, were all recognized as pioneering national sports heroes. But with the adoration, also came the pressure to perform. The relay team may not have reached such dizzy heights yet, but their goal is to get there.

"We’re still way behind. Apart from Zhang Peimeng and Su Bingtian, who’ve both gone under 10 seconds, all the others’ personal bests are still around 10.3 or .4. When we’ve got more athletes achieving 10.2 or 10.1, then we can be considered a strong team," said Yuan Guoqiang.

"We know where we are. We must stay grounded, and train harder. When we can win without relying on luck or our competitors being disqualified, and we’re standing on the podium as true winners, then we can think differently," said Xie Zhenye.

"The thing is, people pay attention to you because you’re famous," said Yuan Guoqiang.

"To me, pressure is strength. The attention makes you feel better than if nobody cares. To me, it’s a source of strength," said Xie Zhenye.

So how far off are Chinese athletes from out-sprinting their top competitors?

"There’s a huge difference between western and Asian athletes. The physical differences put Asian athletes in a weak position to begin with. So we must put more effort into technique and power training in order to catch up," said Yuan Guoqiang.

"To me, the biggest difference is attitude, the professional mentality. For western sprinters, it’s a career, a way to maintain their lifestyle. Some of us haven’t reached that level of dedication. We remain within a system," said Xie Zhenye.

Most people agree that hosting the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 was a game changer for Chinese interest in sports generally. And in many ways the rise of these new home-grown relay stars has reignited China’s interest in track and field events, an area not traditionally viewed as the country’s strong suit.
That’s why, ahead of the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, expectations are rising again.

"What expectations do you have for this team at Rio?"

"A 4x100m relay team achieves different times in every single competition. No one can predict what’ll happen in Rio. We need to prepare properly and achieve the target time we’ve set. Under 38 seconds would be good," said Yuan Guoqiang.

"To qualify for the final and then aim for a better time," said Xie Zhenye.

China’s 1.3 billion people are now gearing up to see what their athletes can achieve at these Olympics. They’re wondering, will the Games produce China’s next sporting superstar?

Follow us on

  • Please scan the QR Code to follow us on Instagram

  • Please scan the QR Code to follow us on Wechat