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Liu confident of gold at world champs

14 August 2007

By Nick Mulvenney

Liu Xiang is confident of claiming the only major 110m hurdles title to have eluded him at this month's world championships but is likely to be the only Chinese to top the podium, China's head coach said on Wednesday.

Despite China's rise to sporting superpower status, athletics remains an Achilles heel and Feng Shuyong thinks the best haul his 57-strong team will bring back from the Osaka championships -- the last before the Beijing Olympics -- is three medals.

"Chinese athletics is gradually closing the gap to the top world levels but generally we are still a long way off," Feng told a news conference on Tuesday.

"It's difficult to predict, but I hope that we will have one gold and one or two more medals."

Olympic and Asian champion Liu won silver for China's only medal two years ago in Helsinki but he has since stamped his authority on the high hurdles and set a new world record of 12.88 seconds last year.

"We cannot guarantee anything, but we're going for gold," said Liu's coach Sun Haiping, who added that the 24-year-old had targeted a winning time of 13.00 seconds.

China will take a team of 24 men and 33 women to Osaka for the Aug. 25-Sept. 2 championships and, Liu aside, it is among the latter that China's best hopes of medals lie.

Zhou Chunxiu, who ran the fastest women's marathon time of the year (two hours, 20 minutes and 38 seconds) to win in London in April, is in the squad as is pole vaulter Gao Shuying, who set a personal best of 4.64m in June this year.

Feng is hoping that by exposing 38 of his team to this level of competition for the first time, he will be able to reap the dividends on home soil in next August.

"This is a very good opportunity to rehearse for the Olympics because Osaka has the same weather and humidity as Beijing," he added.

"We are sending a comparatively young team and most of them are next year's hopefuls. I hope that we have at least eight or nine athletes reaching the finals."

Just two of China's 32 gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics came from athletics through Liu and Xing Huina in the women's 10,000m. Xing is injured and will miss the championships.

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