The Chinese track and field team will struggle to achieve success in the absence of star hurdler Liu Xiang at the Athletics World Championships in Berlin in August, officials have conceded.
(From left to right) Shi Dongpeng, Zhou Chunxiu and Zhang Wenxiu are considered as China's hopefuls for the Berlin Athletics World Championships.
According to a preliminary entry list for the Worlds announced by the Chinese authority, three hurdlers will race the men's 110m hurdles, the fifth place getter at the 2007 World Championships Shi Dongpeng, Ji Wei and Yin Jing.
Reigning world champion Liu will go to Berlin just to watch the event after failing to adequately recover from the foot injury that saw him withdraw from last year's home Olympics.
"The Berlin World Championships will be a hard time for us, because of the lack of elite athletes," said Feng Shuyong, vice-director of China's Athletics Administrative Center.
At the Osaka World Championships in 2007, the Chinese team claimed a gold medal courtesy of Liu, a silver from women's marathoner Zhou Chunxiu and a bronze by women's hammer thrower Zhang Wenxiu.
It was the squad's best result since the 1993 Stuttgart Worlds, where China won four gold medals.
At last month's national championships, four Chinese men's hurdlers reached the A standard for the Worlds, with 21-year-old Yin winning the race ahead of China's No 2 Shi. Yin, whose personal best of 13.40 seconds was the fastest time by a Chinese hurdler this year, is expected to shine in his World Championships debut in Berlin.
But officials remain guarded about the team's prospects.
"According to IAAF standards, all of those athletes are qualified for the Worlds, but they still have to improve their abilities," Feng said.
"If they want to reach the final, they have to clock about 13.30 seconds. These young hurdlers still lack experience and solid techniques. They have to work hard if they want to close their result to 13.00 seconds."
Among China's women's team, world-class marathon runner Zhou has also been in poor form recently.
She finished 12th in the 2009 London marathon two years after winning the event.
Making matters worse will be the absence of Chinese women from all middle and long distance events, in which they used to be a powerhouse.
"Although some of the runners reached qualification standard, they did very badly this year and are not competitive enough to run in the Worlds, so we won't send them to Berlin this time," said Feng.
Given these setbacks, Feng said China would just be striving for a medal.
"The entry list has not been decided yet, but roughly we will send a team of some 30 athletes," Feng told China Daily. "I hope we can get a medal. Our hopeful events are the women's and men's 20km walk, women's hammer throw, shot put and discus."
Hammer thrower Zhang is the biggest hope for the Chinese team.
She claimed the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games with a throw of 74.32 meters.
Gong Lijiao, 20, and 21-year-old Song Aiming are the other hopes in the women's shot put and discus respectively.
Gong's best throw of 19.82 is ranked ninth in the world and Song's hoist of 64.83m is the second best of the year in women's discus.
(China Daily June 25, 2009)