Diamonds in the rough

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Liu Shunlai, a 59-year-old who runs 100m in 13 seconds, competes at the Diamond Open in Shanghai last Saturday. The amateur tournament celebrated the 10th anniversary of the IAAF Diamond League Shanghai meet, which starts on Saturday. Provided to China Daily

The IAAF Diamond League Shanghai is an annual showcase of speed and strength for some of the world's finest professional athletes - and now amateurs are getting an insider's perspective on the scintillating action.

To celebrate the event's 10th anniversary and introduce more people to the world of athletics, the inaugural Diamond Open for amateurs was staged at Shanghai University of Sport last Saturday, attracting more than 800 athletics aficionados from across China.

The reward for the top eight in 60m, 400m and 800m races was a chance to compete at the Diamond League Shanghai this Saturday, ahead of the pro races at a packed Shanghai Stadium.

In addition to the three races and high jump and long jump competitions, the amateur event included a kids relay and a distance medley relay for four-member teams that included one female runner.

Pseudo professionalism is one of the major attractions of the Diamond Open, with competitors outfitted with pro-level equipment in a super-charged atmosphere - which is why 59-year-old Liu Shunlai traveled from his home in Tianjin to be part of the action.

"It was very professional and, along with the high quality equipment, I got advice from the pro referees and experts in the stadium to help improve my skills," said Liu Shunlai, who can still clock 13 seconds in the 100m.

"I'm an athletics fan and participate in many amateur competitions. I've be training for about 30 years, but the opportunity to join such a high quality event was unthinkable until the Diamond Open came along."

Liu Shunlai recognizes the value of athletics for the younger generation, so he invited his son to start training with him.

"The younger generation spends too much time in the digital world, so participating in athletics can be very beneficial," Liu Shunlai said.

"In many Chinese high schools, balancing physical education and the student's academic performance seems to be impossible, and many parents and teachers insist that students focus primarily on school work.

"The amateur event in Shanghai allows more families to embrace the charm of athletics and cultivate the younger generation's passion for the sport."

University student Liu Hang, who will compete at the Diamond League Shanghai, knows firsthand how a passion for athletics can reap major rewards.

"I started training in 2009 when I was still a middle school student," said Liu Hang, who competed in the 60m sprint at the Diamond Open.

"Because of injuries I did not become a pro sprinter, but giving up on athletics was never an option. I kept training every day and I would feel uncomfortable if I stopped for just a day or two.

"For amateur runners, there's not many chances to compete at such a high level event, so the Diamond Open is a rare opportunity for us.

"For me, the showcase event at the Diamond League Shanghai might be the only chance in my life to run in a top-level pro event. I wish there could be more opportunities like this."

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