China takes 1st gold in athletics worlds

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China's Liu Hong(R) celebrated after securing first gold medal for the host country.  

World record holder Liu Hong won the women's 20km race walk for host China's first gold medal at the world championships here on Friday.

Liu, who claimed the gold with a time of 1 hour 27 minutes and 45 seconds, finally had her efforts paid off after winning world championships bronze in 2009, silver in 2011 and then another bronze two years ago in Moscow.

The gold also came as a big relief after the host has just collected three silver and one bronze medals from the first six matchdays at the worlds.

As host nation of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese have not won a gold medal at the Bird's Nest until Liu's breakthrough on Friday.

Liu's teammate and major rival Lyu Xiuzhi, who bettered the Asian record in March, won the silver at 1:27.45 while Ukraine's Lyudmyla Olyanovska was third at 1:28.13.

With the withdrawal of the usually strong Russian contingent, the Chinese duo came into the match as favorites and led the race from the very start before leaving the chasing group far behind at the halfway point.

Olyanovska made a late surge, but it never really threatened Liu and Lyu.

It was another scortching morning, but tens of thousands of home fans packed the stands in the Bird's Nest to welcome home the walkers and cheer their first victory as the championships headed into the final weekend.

The Chinese pair fell into each other's arms after the 1-2 finish and soaked up the adoration of the crowd with the red Chinese flags hanging over their shoulders.

"It has been difficult today because it is hot, and pressure is mounting after the Chinese male athletes missed the race walk gold a few days ago. But I believe in myself and I think I deserve to win this match after I paid so much," said Liu, who trimmed the world record by 26 seconds to 1:24.38 in the Spanish city of La Coruna this June.

"It's my fifth world championships and I finally realized my dream. Persistence is what has continued to push me forward. I think the only rival throughout the match is myself.

"With the absence of the Russian walkers, all I have to do is perform to my normal level," the 28-year-old veteran added.

Liu and Lyu walked almost side by side into the Bird's Nest when the duo talked to each other briefly.

"The team work is also important. Me and Lyu cooperated very well to make sure that China can win gold and silver together," said Liu.

Lyu, who defeated Liu with a superb effort over the final kilometre at the Chinese National Games in 2013 and more recently at the world championships trials on the same course, also said teamwork is the key to success.

"We said to each other that we should keep our rhythm in case any of us was expelled. The most important thing is that both of us can walk into the Bird's Nest and cross the finish line smoothly," said the 21-year-old rising star.

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