Tue, 10 Jul 2012 09:58:51 GMT | By IANS

Liu Xiang leads China's medal charge in London

Beijing: After a lacklustre performance at the Beijing Games, the Chinese track and field team led by star hurdler Liu Xiang is pinning medal hopes on eight events at the London Olympics.

Liu Xiang leads China's medal charge in London

"Up to now, a total of 53 Chinese track and field athletes including 27 men and 26 women have qualified for the London Olympics," said Feng Shuyong, vice president of Chinese Athletics Association and also head coach of the national athletics squad. "They will be competing in 28 events, of which 14 are men's and the rest women's."

"After a successful winter training session, Chinese athletes have shown a series of outstanding results this season, which boosted our confidence in the build-up to London Games," he added.

According to Feng, Chinese medal hopes include men's 110m hurdles, women's discus, women's marathon, women's shot put, women's hammer, men's 50km race walk as well as men's and women's 20km race walk.

Although China's final squad for London Games is yet to be announced, former world and Olympic hurdles champion Liu will for sure be the biggest star in the track and field team.

After withdrawing from Beijing Games in 2008 due to an injury in the Achilles' tendon, the Athens Games champion seems to be ready to regain his Olympic honour in London with his newly adopted technique of seven strides to the first hurdle.

The 28-year-old has been enjoying an all-win record as he harvested three straight wins in this outdoor season including setting a season fastest time of 12.97 seconds in the Shanghai leg of IAAF Diamond League in May and a wind-aided mark of 12.87 seconds in the Eugene leg early last month.

In London, Liu will face fierce competition from his rivals, including American reigning world champion Jason Richardson and indoor world 60m hurdles champion Aries Merritt, who also benefits from the seven-step technique and just cut his personal best by 0.10 of a second to surpass Liu for the season best time of 12.93 seconds at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials last month.

And in Feng's mind, the world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba will also be a serious contender.

"I heard he had some injury problems and missed several races recently," said Feng. "But for me, Robles seems to be hiding something. I know his indoor season this year was not very successful, but he is just 26-year-old and he has a strong body. He is the record holder in the first place. Who can say he has no chance in London?.

"Nothing will be taken for granted as all Chinese athletes, including Liu, will face fierce competition in London," said Feng.

Apart from the strong rivals, the tight schedule will also be a major challenge for Liu to cope up with. In all the three competitions he won this season, Liu only needed to run one race and had around two weeks to rest and recover. But things will be different in London.

"In London Games, Liu will run the heat, semifinal and final races in two days. And the semifinal and final will be run within two hours. It will be a big challenge for Liu," said Feng.

"Even a good car will go through a wear process after years of running. Liu will be over 29 by the time of London Olympics, he now needs more time to recover from intensive training and competition than before. Therefore the schedule in London will be tough for him," Feng added.

Liu will be joined by the women's discus champion Li Yanfeng in London. After winning a history-making gold in Daegu worlds last year, Li has been seen as another hope to bring home a gold for China.

But like Liu, Li will also face a tight competition as the 33-year-old veteran is trying to make a breakthrough in her third Olympic Games.

Germany's Nadine Muller is considered as the top favourite in women's discus as she set a seven-year best mark of 68.89 meters early this season to lead the top list.

Croatia's Sandra Perkovic, coming out from a six-month doping suspension, also showed a solid performance with the best throw being 68.24.

Darya Pishchalnikova of Russia and Yarelys Barrios of Cuba both hit marks of over 68 meters this season too, while Li's personal season best was 67.84m.

In men's and women's 20km race walking, China also has the chance to vie for the gold.

The 21-year-old Wang Zhen, who finished fourth in Daegu worlds, collected his first world title in the 2012 IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Saransk, Russia in May. He also renewed the 20km Asian record as he finished first in the national Olympic qualifying event in March.

The 25-year-old Liu Hong, fourth finisher in Beijing Games, also showed great competitiveness as she claimed the silver in women's 20km walk in Daegu.

Ten-kilometer walker Chen Yueling won the first track and field gold for China in 1992 Barcelona Games. Since then, China had won five athletics golds in four Games. But in 2008 Beijing Games, China only pocketed two bronze medals in women's marathon and hammer throw.