Olympics-Athletics-'Lucky charm' Liu the inspiration behind Su's stellar run

Athletics - Men's 100m - Final

By Kane Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Liu Xiang remains China's only Olympic gold medal winner on the track 17 years after his triumph in Athens, but for Su Bingtian - Asia's fastest man - one of his country's greatest heroes is more than an icon.

Su finished sixth in the men's 100 metres final on Sunday after qualifying joint-fastest to give China its most high-profile male athletics performance since Liu won gold in the 110m hurdles in Athens in 2004.

"He's not just my idol, but maybe also my lucky charm," said Su of Liu. "I'm extremely thankful to him. He was the pioneer of China's athletics sport.

"Without him, no one would have dared to dream to be a finalist in Olympics, to be an Olympic champion as an Asian."

Su's breakthrough in Tokyo reminded Chinese audiences of Liu, who became burdened with the entire nation's expectations of further success after his gold in Athens.

Liu quit the 2008 Beijing Olympics after an injury in the final and failed to qualify to the semi-final in London after tripping over a hurdle in his heat.

However, Liu remains a major influence on Su, who works as an associate professor in the school of sports at China’s Jinan University.

There Su co-authored a paper in 2019 on the historical developments of China's men's 100m race, analysing how scientific training methods and healthy competition within the team have contributed to the progress of the sport in China.

The paper went viral on Monday after his race on Sunday, with Chinese fans in awe of the progress made by Su, despite approaching his 32nd birthday later this month.

"Su is 1.77 metre tall and (Usain) Bolt is 1.95 metre. Being 32 and of this height, he is just incredible to be able to run 9.83 seconds!" wrote one fan on China's Twitter-like social media platform Weibo.

Su set the Asian record in the indoor 60 metres in England in 2018 and, the following season, started working with American coach Randy Hungtington as he set his sights on going under the 9.90 second barrier.

In 2018, Su was asked about how difficult it was to run just 0.1 second faster in the 100m.

"That would be too difficult. A 0.1-second improvement would be very impressive. Even a 0.01-second improvement is a bit difficult," Su said in the post.

On Sunday he broke that 9.90 second mark, improving his personal best by a whopping 0.09 seconds to win his semi-final in 9.83 seconds.

Although he posted a 9.98 second run in a final won by Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs, he was delighted with his performance.

"I’ve fulfilled my dream today, and the dreams of all the Chinese sprinters before me," a teary Su said after the race.

"I myself was stunned by the result. It was a perfect race today. Thanks to the Tokyo stadium. It may just have been my best memory in life."

(Reporting by Kane Wu, Writing by Michael Church, Editing by Lincoln Feast.)