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07 Aug 2008
IOC News

Athletics: Liu steals the limelight

If the Olympic Games were being held anywhere other than China this year there would be no doubting which event would be top of the bill when it comes to the track and field programme. Surely there can be nothing to match a 100 metres race featuring three of the only four men to have run under 9.80sec?
Hopes of a nation
But mention the name Liu Xiang, China’s first-ever male Olympic athletics champion, and strange things happen in the People’s Republic. He is quite possibly the most famous man in the country and the mere sight of him in public can cause a commotion. The Shanghai-born 25-year-old won the 110m hurdles in Athens in 2004, but he will be under pressure this time from Cuba’s Dayron Robles, who snatched the world record from Liu this summer.
Holy grail
Meanwhile Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay of the United States will be seeking sprinting’s equivalent of the holy grail. Down the years the 100 metres title has been taken by some of the most legendary names in sport, including Jesse Owens in Berlin in 1936 and, in Mexico City in 1968, Jim Hines, the first man to break the 10-second barrier. More recently Carl Lewis won it twice on his way to his record-equalling nine gold medals.

Women’s focus of attention
Along with Croatia’s world high jump champion Blanka Vlasic, Kenya’s Pamela Jelimo will be the focus of attention on the women’s side after her astonishing 800 metres performances this season. The slightly built 18-year-old has run only a few 800m races, but her time of 1min 54.99sec is a long way ahead of anyone else this season and the fastest in the event for almost 11 years.
Faint-hearted anti-feminists
Jelimo’s time is more than 20 seconds faster than that of Lina Radke when the German won the gold medal in 1928, the first time women were part of the Olympic track and field programme. Unfortunately the sight of several women dropping to the ground in exhaustion after the race in Amsterdam convinced the faint-hearted anti-feminist movement that races of more than 200m were not suitable for the fairer sex, and the women’s 800m did not return to the Olympic arena until 1960 in Rome.
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