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Passing the baton to next generation of sprint stars


Su Bingtian of China reacts in the men's 100m final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Aug 1, 2021 [Photo/Agencies]

Watching sprinter Su Bingtian step onto the track for the men's 100m Olympic final in Tokyo, I couldn't help but recall an iconic moment from the 2008 Beijing Games.

However, the sad sight of crestfallen Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang limping off the track was in stark contrast to what was about to ensue for Su-the veteran showcasing China's speed to the world once again to revive the nation's sprinting prowess.

After making history by becoming the first Chinese to reach an Olympic 100m final, Su could be proud of his sixth-place finish in the blue-riband event.

Having been at the Bird's Nest stadium to watch Liu's title defense-which was ultimately ended by injury-those same feelings of excitement and anticipation that gripped the nation back then returned for Su's sub-10 final.

At last, a new generation has picked up the baton.

After winning gold in the 110m hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Liu was thrust into the limelight as China's only true star of the track, encouraging the nation's young athletes to believe that they too could mix it with the world's sprinting elite.

Speaking after his 100m final, Su was keen to emphasize just how important Liu's breakthrough was to his own career, describing the legendary hurdler as his idol and lucky star.

Liu reciprocated by congratulating Su on the Asian-record 9.83 seconds he had clocked in the semifinal, posting a Weibo message which simply read: "Deification! 9.83 sec!!!".

The interaction between the two icons attracted huge attention from netizens, with related topics ranking high on Weibo's trending news after the semis.

After Liu's retirement in 2015, the Chinese public craved a track star who could challenge the world's best.

Su's star turn in Tokyo shows he fits the bill, with the high-profile nature of the 100m adding to his appeal and showing China's athletic excellence need not be limited to events such as diving and table tennis.

The 31-year-old Su is well aware that his achievements will have major ramifications beyond his own career.

"I hope my sixth-place finish at the Olympics can encourage more young athletes," he said. "I believe if we can apply our training concepts to them, it will be twice as effective."

China's glory in Tokyo, of course, extended well beyond track and field, with stunning performances throughout the whole delegation racking up 38 gold medals in all. That is the same amount the team bagged at the London 2012 Games when China achieved its highest gold total as a non-host.

China was also less reliant on its traditional strength sports in Tokyo, such as diving, weightlifting and table tennis, with its 88-medal total spread over more events. Reaching the podium in sports usually dominated by Western powers, such as rowing and wrestling, was also hugely refreshing.

Now the task is to build on the momentum and feel-good factor Team China generated at this Olympics-not just among our elite performers but, perhaps more importantly, among the public as the nation shapes up for a fitter future.

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