Liu Xiang blazes golden trail for China
Based on the previous years’ form, the favourite for the men’s 110m hurdles in Athens should have been US athlete Allen Johnson. He had won the world championship title in 2001 and 2003, defeating all of his main rivals in the process. However, the Americans form had dipped in 2004. His times had not been as fast and his normally smooth style had suddenly started to look less assured. He looked edgy in his first round race and then crashed out in his quarter-final after clattering a series of hurdles and falling at the ninth.
With Johnson out, attention turned to three other athletes: the defending champion Anier García from Cuba, another American, Terrence Trammell, and China's Liu Xiang.
Liu had been the form athlete in the run-up to the Games, but he carried a huge burden of responsibility. China had long since established itself as a major Olympic power, but remarkably the country had yet to win its first gold medal in track and field.
Liu was seen as its best chance to break that duck. The son of a truck driver from Shanghai, he had originally trained as a high jumper but switched to sprinting after his coaches decided he would not grow tall enough. Throughout his development, he was singled out as a youngster of huge potential and his performances were analysed by a team of sport scientists.
He qualified comfortably for the final, along with García and Trammell, and made a good start. Over the first three or four hurdles he was neck-and-neck with Trammell, but the American then brushed against a couple of hurdles while Liu went over each smoothly. The Chinese athlete edged ahead and, having taken the lead, his victory was never threatened. He crossed the line in 12.91 seconds, equalling the world record.
Two years later he lowered the world record to 12.88 seconds. However, Liu’s ambition of defending his title in his home country came to an end when he was forced to pull out of Beijing 2008 with an injury.