Hitting the home stretch toward Tokyo

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Sprinter Su Bingtian was thrilled to run under 10 seconds (9.98) in the 100 meters at this month's Chinese National Athletics Championships in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province. [Photo/Xinhua]

China's track and field stars continued to fine-tune their Olympic preparations at this month's Chinese National Athletics Championships, with a number of standout performances boding well for their chances at the Tokyo Games.

The star of the show at Shangyu Sports Center in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province was sprinter Su Bingtian, who won the men's 100 meters title in 9.98 seconds on June 11. It was the seventh time the 31-year-old has dipped under the 10-second mark in the discipline.

"It was really important that I could have a good result before the start of the Tokyo Olympics. It gives me a better indication of what shape I'm in and gives me confidence before the Games," said Su.

"My overall condition is good now, but there are still some minor issues to sort out. I still have room for improvement."

Su showed great momentum in 2018 and 2019, winning numerous 60m and 100m races at domestic and international meets.

As the first-ever Asia-born sprinter to break the 10-second barrier in the 100m in 2015, Su twice equaled the Asian record of 9.91 seconds in 2018 and clocked 9.92 to take that year's Asian Games title in Jakarta.

However, a waist injury in late 2019 slowed Su's progress, before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entire 2020 season to thwart his comeback plans.

Su credits his support team for helping him to return to somewhere near his peak ahead of what's likely to be the veteran's last Olympics.

"In 2019, I was not in good shape and it has not been an easy task to restore my strength. Now another challenge for me is how to maintain my momentum," Su said.

"I received the best possible treatment for my injuries, and with my results this season I have not let down my support team."

Xie Zhenye clocked 20.57 seconds to win the 200m in Shaoxing, and was second behind Su in the 100m in 10.15 sec.

The 27-year-old owns the Asian 200m record (19.88), and in 2018 became the second Chinese sprinter to break the 100m 10-second barrier, with a personal best of 9.97.

"All these events are for the Tokyo Olympics. We don't necessarily need to have stunning results, but the main goal is to test our training and to see if there are problems to be fixed," Xie told China Newsweek.

"In terms of what meets I might participate in next, that will depend on what sort of shape I'm in. We participate in these meets for the Olympics. If we are not strong enough due to a lack of training, just continuing to race is pointless. But if we are not motivated or excited enough, we should keep competing at these meets."

Rather than being rivals on the track, Su and Xie very much consider themselves teammates and friends who will fight together for the nation in the 4x100m relay in Tokyo.

"Su is recovering well and looks in very good shape… as long as he's in good condition our relay team will be stronger and be more competitive," Xie said.

"Speaking of the 100m, Su and I will fight for spots in the final. No Chinese sprinter has ever reached the final of the 100m at the Olympics, and it's a similar situation for the 200m. So we want to make some breakthroughs."

Women's world shot put champion Gong Lijiao also impressed in Shaoxing. The 32-year-old won with a throw of 20.31 meters to become the only female shot putter to surpass the 20m mark this year.

"Earlier I said my goal was to throw over 20 meters at this competition, and now I have made it. That has given me a lot of confidence for the Tokyo Olympics," said the two-time world champion.

"I believe I can achieve a better result in Tokyo. Today I didn't have a really good pace at the start, so I feel I have room for improvement. Now we have less than 40 days to go before the Olympics, so at the Games I will be stronger and hope to achieve my dream.

"It's been a while since an athlete anywhere in the world has thrown over 20 meters, which is a barrier for shot putters. Whoever can break the barrier can be more confident."

Wang Chunyu won the women's 800m in heavy rain with a personal best of one minute and 59.42 seconds-0.08 sec inside the Olympic A standard to book her Tokyo ticket.

"The rain definitely slowed me down to some degree. I was expecting to finish in 1:59. I was prepared for running in heavy rain. No matter what the conditions are, I will always try my best," said the 26-year-old.

"I have made some progress this year, and I am looking forward to improving my results in the final at the Tokyo Olympics."

Other highlights of the national championship were Huang Changzhou's victory in the men's long jump with a leap of 8.19m, veteran Tian Zizhong's men's shot put triumph (19.72m to refresh his PB), and Asian-record holder Lyu Huihui's women's javelin victory. Lyu, however, was not satisfied with her winning throw of 59.35m in heavy rain.

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