Liu Xiang started out as child high jumper. But when a bone test showed he would never be tall enough to dominate the event, his sports school asked him to give up. In 1998, Liu began training as a hurdler.
Just three years later, Liu broke Renaldo Nehemiah’s 24-year-old world junior record for the 100 m hurdles. In 2003 he followed up with a bronze medal at the World Championships of Athletics. By now he was a contender for a medal at the 2004 Olympics, although no one expected him to win the gold.
Yet when it came to the final, Liu’s technique was near-perfect. He barely touched the sixth hurdle and cleared all the others cleanly, powering to a victory of almost three metres. And his time – 12.91 seconds – equalled the 11 –year-old world record.
That performance made Liu the first Chinese man to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics. He was still only 21. When the Olympics come to Beijing in 2008, Liu will be there to defend his title.