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Liu Xiang in Good Form, Johnson Crashes out
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China's Liu Xiang said in Athens on Wednesday after storming into the men's 110m hurdles semifinals that he is in "good" form and expects a breakthrough for his country.


The 21-year-old, China's only athletics gold hopeful at the Olympic Games, sailed into the semifinals of the 110m hurdles by winning heat 3 in 13.26 seconds.


"I am in a very good form," he said. "I am excited to be here at the Olympic Games and usually I can maintain a good form at big competitions."


But the Shanghai-born Liu played down gold medal chances in Friday's final.


"There is really some hope of winning the gold. But we must not let the heart rule the head. There are several world-class hurdlers there," he said.


"I think the most difficult thing is Thursday's semifinal," he said. "After that, I think anything can happen."


Liu false started in the race but he said he did it on purpose.


"I tried to be equal with the gun," he said. "But the second time I was waiting for gun."


Duan Shijie, vice president of the Chinese Olympic delegation, has said that it will be a breakthrough for China if Liu has reached the top eight.


Chinese men has won only one medal from the track and field at the Olympic Games, through high jumper Zhu Jianhua in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.


Zhu, then world record holder, disappointed the Chinese by winning only the bronze.


"Nobody from the whole Asia has ever won a medal in the event,” he said. "So I think winning a medal of any color will be a great breakthrough."


Meanwhile, Allen Johnson from the United States, who has long been regarded as Liu's rival No. 1, fell at the second last hurdle in heat 2 and went out of the Olympics.


Johnson, the four-time world champion and 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles, knocked down three hurdles, recovered, then hit the ninth hurdle head-on with his lead foot. He fell to the track, then did a belly flop under hurdle No. 10.


His trademark sunglasses flew off, coming to rest a few feet down the track. Johnson just lay there, staring ahead in stunned disbelief.


"It's only the second time I've ever fallen in my career," Johnson said. "The other was a couple of years ago in South Africa. There's nothing I can do now but watch and cheer for everybody else."


Liu Xiang felt sad after learning the story.


"He is my idol. I have a lot of respect to him. I had expected to have a chance to run against him at the Olympic Games," Liu said.


"I'm very sorry for Johnson," Liu said. "I really wanted to meet him in the final."


This could be Johnson's last Olympics. The 33-year-old champion insists he has no plans to retire, but he will be 37 when the Beijing Games come around.


(China Daily August 26, 2004)


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