Former 110m hurdles world record holder and 2004 Olympic, 2007 world and 2008 world indoor champion Liu Xiang today announced his retirement from track and field. His fellow hurdlers give us their memories of the great man's career.
“You always expected Liu to be at the top of the placings. You always knew that he was going to bring a technical efficiency that was unparalleled by any of the other competitors. So he was always dangerous in the critical zone, which is the second half of the race, because his technique just allowed him to really pick up ground that other athletes couldn’t do.
“Liu was the first that really brought the sprint and the hurdling aspect to China. I think what it did for hurdling is that it allowed us to have a larger fan base that we would never have been able to have if it wasn’t for Liu.
“Shanghai is one of the best meets for hurdlers. You get a large population that has a familiarity and an understanding of the event. Shanghai is at the beginning of the Diamond League [series], and it always starts the season off with a great full crowd that is excited to see the hurdles, more than the 100 and some of the other marquee events. So his legacy in China is respected, but also I think that he made a large impact as far as how many fans we have for the specific event of hurdling now.
“I think it’s safe to say that the Chinese culture is more of a reserved one. Americans are known for being expressive, and the Jamaicans now have also been the vocal country on the track. The Chinese tend to be the ones that are more respectful, more conservative, you know they bow and things like that.
“But when Liu is in Shanghai, when he finishes the Diamond League race, he always takes his shirt off and he runs and swings his jersey. Liu is like a rock star in China. He gets the crowd pumping, and it’s just fun to see someone perform well at home and get that much crowd support. It just proves how big of an icon and a sports figure Liu is.”
Liu Xiang and Richardson celebrate at the 2011 world champs
“I remember watching Osaka [the 2007 World Championships] when I was 17. Liu Xiang won from lane eight, an auspicious number for the Chinese. I'm hoping I get lane 8 in Beijing if I get there. It’s a lucky number. I’m not superstitious, but I believe in the customs. It worked for Confucius.
“Liu Xiang is my hero. He’s incredible. He was the face of the Beijing Olympic Games. He was the winner of Osaka. He broke the world record. He won the Olympics. This is the guy.
“He comes out and he runs 13.0 in the Asian games in 2010 – in November he ran 13.08. Who does that? He’s just phenomenal; he’s technically flawless, under pressure he’s amazing.”
Liu Xiang wins his world title in style – from lane 8 – the commentator goes wild
“My best memory of Liu Xiang is from the indoor world championships in Istanbul 2012. It was my first world championship, and the first time I ran against him, and unfortunately the last time too. In the warm up area, I saw him often touch his Achilles tendon, but even though he had pain, he could still run fast and beat me. He is – not was – a very strong athlete, fluid, technical!
“You know, in my career, before I began being strong, I watched two hurdlers in particular to learn about the event: Dayron Robles and Liu Xiang. Two good record holders. So to be who I am today, both of them have helped me to become strong.
“[I wish he could compete at] the world championships in Beijing to finish his career – and for me to run against him one last time – to say goodbye on the track would be perfect, but this will never happen. But I hope to meet him in Beijing this summer and run under the eyes of a hurdling legend.”
A troublesome Achilles didn't prevent Xiang clinching silver in 2012 – his 8th indoor and outdoor world champs medal
“I remember I raced Liu the first time at the [2012 indoor] Birmingham Grand Prix. He was just coming back after missing out on gold in the Daegu World Championships and he absolutely annihilated me. It was great to be part of the race.
“Then I raced him in every single round of the [2012 Istanbul] World Indoor Championships. I remember racing him in the heat, it was really early in the morning and I ran a personal best, 7.61, and I managed to just dip on the line and actually take the victory. He was joking afterwards that the early mornings don’t always agree with him. I managed to get one over him, which was a very proud moment for me, but he managed to regain his form in the final. I wasn’t far behind him [Xiang came second behind Aries Merritt, Pozzi finished fourth], but he did beat me.
“He was so great about it, very gracious. After the heat and the semi-final he called me over and had a bit of a chat. He’s an excellent ambassador for our sport.
“I’ve always been a big Liu Xiang fan, but I think the one race that I recall best was his comeback in the 2009 Shanghai Diamond League. He came back to finish second behind Terrence Trammell, it was just a phenomenal comeback after the year he’d had. I was watching it live and completely had my breath taken away by the way he raced.
“He had a poor start and halfway through the race there seems to be this moment of inspiration where he just transformed and really worked through the field and past everyone. It was just phenomenal just to see the emotion on his face and what it meant to him. It was just great to see him come back like that.”
Pozzi and Liu Xiang faced each other in all three rounds of the 2012 world indoors
“My most memorable Liu Xiang moment? Of course the 2004 Olympic Final! I was only at the very start of my track and field training, 14 years old, and I was very impressed! Brilliant performance.
“At my first world champs, 2011 in Daegu, I was in the same heat as him. What would your feelings be if you raced at your very first big competition in your very first heat with a living legend?
“When we entered the track the sector closest to the blocks was all red of Chinese flags and the people just exploded with shouting. All these factors put a lot of pressure on me and I never made it to the next round. There is a photo of that race, note how far ahead Liu is.”
"Note how far ahead he is."
“I remember the first time I really noticed him as a person was in Daegu. I think it’s fair to say in Asia he’s very much a national treasure. I remember the day before the actual heats most of us were at the warm up track just doing our final training sessions. Liu was there just doing his normal warm-up, preparing for the race, and lining the track were hundreds of fans and camera teams following his every move.
“What struck me about the situation was that it wasn’t just the fans and media, but at least 20 or more athletes watching him train. I think that was the thing that impressed me the most, all those athletes who were there to focus on their own training, suddenly got their phones out and stood on the grass to take photos and videos of Liu Xiang going over those hurdles. I think that showed how well respected within the athletics community he is – for other athletes to stop what they’re doing and to watch him train, that says a lot.
“The way he runs is just a whole new dimension. The thing that makes him stand out from the rest is the way he made hurdling look incredibly easy. It’s almost as if he was flying over those hurdles. If you compare it to others who’d knock over several hurdles, he’d always look like he’s just sailing through. He looks so effortless and relaxed.”