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Liu Xiang comfortably 'numb' ahead of Osaka Grand Prix
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All he does is train, eat, sleep and have massages. China's 110m hurdles world champion Liu Xiang says he feels "numb" because of his monotonous months-long, closed-door training in Shanghai.

So, this weekend's competition in Japan - the Osaka Grand Prix -- should be a welcome relief for the bored hurdler. Before flying to Japan yesterday, he said in a TV interview he was looking forward to some fresh air and a new challenge.

"I am doing the same thing every day on the track. And every Saturday, I go home for a rest. Every week comes and goes and I really feel a bit numb," said the Shanghai-born superstar.

"I just can't wait to go out and compete. The Osaka event comes just in time and I can relax and take a deep breath."

As the world record holder in the sport as well as the reigning Olympic champion, Liu is China's main hope of taking a gold medal in track and field. It is a burden he must bear.

"I don't think I'm myself right now. I do try to keep a healthy mind, as if I have never achieved any results.

"The difference from four years ago is that I am physically stronger and I run faster. I have also made some progress technically.

"Competition is the best way to test your ability. The Beijing Games will be my second Olympics and it's for sure I am better than four years ago."

Head coach Sun Haiping is more happy than concerned about Liu's numbness.

"This feeling (numbness) is just what I expected. Olympic preparations take a long time and training will make the athlete a bit dull.

"It's a natural process related to an athlete's physical and mental condition. Now he is a bit numb, that means he will feel better and better and will be at his best at the Beijing Olympic Games.

"If he was now in top form, his form might have ebbed (by the time the Olympics starts)."

Though not at his best, Liu is still looking to win his fifth-straight title at the International Association of Athletics Federations tournament in Japan.

"It's been a lucky place for me. I hope to keep my 100 percent winning record," said Liu, who took his first world championships title in Osaka last year.

Liu is likely to win as big names like Cuban teenager Dayron Robles, American four-time world champion Alan Johnson and 2007 world championships silver medalist Terrence Trammell of the US are all absent.

Liu's main threat will come from another American, David Payne, who finished third at last year's Worlds.

Liu has performed consistently well in 2007. He was dominant in all 12 races, winning nine of them and finishing second once and third twice.

After the Osaka event, Liu is set to compete in two more races in May - the Olympic test event in Beijing on May 22 in the National Stadium and the US Reebok Grand Prix on May 31.

The test event will be Liu's first and only chance to race in the Olympic venue before August's opening ceremony, while the US race will help him gauge the strength of his American rivals.

(China Daily May 8, 2008)

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