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China's Liu Xiang Hopes for Good Showing in Olympic 110-Meter Hurdles - 2004-08-24

China's Liu Xiang is a rising star in the men's 110-meter hurdles. At the Olympics, he will face his idol, American Allen Johnson, the four-time world champion and 1996 Olympic gold medalist.

Liu Xiang burst on the track scene in 2002 when he set an Asian and world junior record in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 13.12 seconds. Last year, Chinese sports journalists voted him Male Athlete of the Year. Many consider him China's second most popular athlete after basketball star Yao Ming, who plays for the NBA's Houston Rockets.

This is the first Olympics for Liu and he said he hopes he has a good showing.

"Obviously it's a big [Olympic] Games and a big opportunity for me," he said. "And I will do as I did in training and make sure every run goes well."

Liu Xiang was the bronze medalist in the 110-meter hurdles at last year's World Athletics Championships in Paris. At this year's World Indoor Championships in Budapest, Liu was second to American star Allen Johnson in the 60-meter hurdles.

Johnson has won the world 110-meter title four times, and has clocked the best time in the world this year (13.05). He won the 1996 Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. But he was 4th in the 2000 Sydney Games after battling a sore leg muscle that year.

It is well known that the 33-year-old Johnson is the 21-year-old Liu's idol. Liu, from Shanghai, was asked by reporters in Athens if he thought he could beat Allen Johnson.

"Actually to compete with him is my dream," he said. "And to beat him is my dream too. I will try my best in the Games to compete well."

The one meter-78 Allen Johnson says he has nothing but respect for his taller opponent Liu Xiang, who stands one meter-89.

"It's going to be tough. I think this year he's shown he's the person to beat," he said. "He's the only [110M] hurdler who hasn't lost a race [outdoors in 110m hurdles] this year, so it's going to be good. I think it's going to be exciting."

Liu's coach, Sun Haiping, has been playing down his hurdler's Olympic medal chances. He says reaching the top six would be a breakthrough for Chinese athletics.

Liu is aiming to be the first Chinese male track and field athlete to win an Olympic medal since Zhu Jianhua won a bronze in the high jump 20 years ago.

Liu said he is aware of China's athletics history.

"I know Zhu Jianhua and really respect him since Zhu Jianhua was an earlier generation of athletes," he said. "We live in the same city. We see each other a lot. We are good friends, and Zhu Jianhua has been giving me suggestions."

Liu Xiang is hoping those suggestions will help him win an Olympic medal in the men's 110-meter hurdles.