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Liu Xiang begins training in isolation
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Friends and relatives of China's 110m hurdles star Liu Xiang will find it more difficult to reach him by cell phone or through MSN on the Internet as the reigning Olympic champion has been asked to limit his links to the outside world until the Beijing Games.


Liu arrived in Beijing yesterday from Shanghai to start his closed-door winter training. He is being carefully handled by the State General Administration of Sports in order to avoid "unnecessary distractions".


He will also not be allowed to attend any commercial events before the Games -- his public appearance on December 7 in Shanghai was his last until next summer.


Liu Xiang, together with his coach Sun Haiping (left), arrives at the athletes' apartment of the State General Administration for Sports in Beijing yesterday.


Liu has said he enjoys commercial shoots. He says they are fun and a good opportunity to relax.


"I like the experience of shooting commercials. Interesting things happen and make me happy. I also have time to chat with friends like Yao Ming and (China's diving queen) Guo Jingjing."


Liu's head coach Sun Haiping agreed: "As long as they're not going too far, the shoots are a good way to relax and tune up."


But now Liu has to abandon his time of relaxation and leisure and put 100 percent of his attention towards preparation.


Reports have also said he will not show up to the annual Spring Festival Ceremony in February (China's lunar new year).


Liu, a national idol, entertained fans at the 2005 ceremony, along with other big-name stars.


"We will have to make sure nothing interrupts the winter training session," coach Sun said. "It is very important for Liu's future performances."


The closed-door session will go until March, followed by a few tournaments Liu will attend between March and June. The coach said Liu will compete in the tournaments to see how effective the trainings were.


Staying focused


Burdened with such high expectations and pressure, Liu can't wait to stand at the starting line of the 110m hurdles competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.


"I am not in the mood to dwell on the 2007 season. I just hope the Games will come as soon as possible," said Liu, who had a glittering 2007, highlighted by a historic world title at the Osaka World Championships.


"The feeling of waiting for the big time is not good. It makes you nervous and the daily training is tough."


The Shanghai-born hurdler admitted that he'll just have to wait, and in the meantime he'll try to get himself into the best possible mental and physical form and try not to worry about the pressure upon him.


"It's a key factor behind success, keeping your mind focused," he said. "I tell myself it's just a normal competition and the only difference is it's on home soil."


As China's major hope of bringing home a gold medal in track and field, Liu has tried everything to ease the weight on his shoulder.


"I will stay in a good mood every day. The head coach and I will sometimes find ways to have fun on the track field. We will combine the games and training together. And also I will share jokes with my head coach."


Coach Sun has been very encouraged by Liu's healthy mental state.


"I am so glad to see Liu is in very good form, both physically and mentally," Sun said in comments last month, adding French star and 2005 champion Ladji Doucoure was in his prime but had fallen since he lost his focus.


Past and future


Concentrated and focused, Liu has had consistently strong performances in 2007.


Liu was dominant in all 12 races, winning nine of them and finishing in second once and third twice.


"Yes, it was a very important year for me. All the victories will boost my confidence ahead of the Olympic Games."


Liu, who broke the sport's world record in 2006, said his breakthrough in Osaka was a dream come true him, and gave him a shot in the arm.


"I had been dreaming of the world title before the tournament. I was third in 2003 and second in 2005.


"I didn't even expect to win as I caught a cold and a fever right before the competition. I was in the ninth track in the final. Everything appeared not in my favor. But I made it. Now I have won all major titles and I am able to take all the challenges."

Of the 70 IAAF events around the world between February and September, coach Sun said Liu will only take part in the ones most "suitable" to him, beginning with a couple February races in Europe.


Liu will compete in the traditional Osaka Grand Prix, where he is undefeated in the past four years.


"Osaka is not far away and the weather conditions are similar to Beijing's," Sun said.


Liu will also likely compete in May's New York Grand Prix or June's Prefontaine Classic in the US, events that will help them "know more about American rivals", as Sun said.


(China Daily December 18, 2007)

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