Xingjuan Zheng of China during the women's High Jump final (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Chinese athletics season comes to a close; juniors again in spotlight

The long athletics season ended unusually late in China with the National Grand Prix Final in Zhaoqing, Guangdong province in southern China from  8 to 10 November. The meet was held in relatively warm conditions with temperature at 20-22 C during the competition.

Gong Lijiao ends junior years with commanding victory

Most domestic stars ended their season at the National Championships in mid-October, but there was some left to compete here including a few top juniors.

19-year-old Gong Lijiao who took the fifth place at the Olympic Shot Put competition, ended her junior career with a commanding 19.40m winning result. Gong, who finished in 7th place in the 2007 Osaka World Championships at the age of 18, is easily the best junior in the world for a really long time. Her 19.46m personal best at the Olympic qualification is the best result by a junior since June 1994 when fellow Chinese Cheng Xiaoyan set the Asian junior record 20.02m. Gong has already recorded seven competitions over 19 metres as a junior including five during 2008 and has won two successive national titles 2007/08.

Consistent Zheng Xingjuan

Another 19-year-old competing for the last time as a junior was Chinese number one women’s high jumper Zheng Xingjuan. The 1.84m tall jumper, who cleared her personal best 1.92m in 2005 as a 16-year-old, has not progressed since but has kept her level consistent. She has jumped 1.92m in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 1.91m in 2008 and has been the world’s top junior for the past four seasons.

Zheng, who won the silver medal at the 2006 World Junior Championships is the world leading junior in 2008 as well with a 1.91m result which she has cleared twice in May and October. In Zhaoqing she recorded another win with a 1.88m clearance for her 10th straight victory in national competitions.

Zhang Wenxiu – prospects for further international success look bright

Olympic bronze medallist Zhang Wenxiu closed her season with a 68.72m winning result in the Hammer Throw, her only sub-70m mark of the season. The 22-year-old, who also took the bronze in Osaka 2007, will surely be looking for a brighter medal in 2009 including a win at the 11th National Games – she was second in 2005 as a 19-year-old.

Song Aimin, the Olympic fourth placer in the Discus Throw, closed a fine season winning with a 60.21m toss well ahead of Sun Taifeng who was second at 58.63m. 19-year-old Xu Tingting won the Triple Jump with 14.05m and Wu Sha topped the pole vault with a 4.15m clearance.

The running events results were very modest. 19-year-old Jiang Lan won both 100/200m with 11.84 sec and 24.14 sec. Su Qian upset top Chinese Liu Qing in the 1500m times being 4:14.75 and 4:16.25 respectively. Jia Chaofeng was another double winner in the 5000/10,000m recording a season best in both: 15:56.77 and 32:59.63.

Zhu Yanmei won the 3000m Steeplechase in 9:55.18 and Sun Yawei set a personal best 13.39 sec winning the 100m Hurdles (also recording the same time when winning her heat). World junior record holder Wang Xing (54.40 in 2005) won the 400m Hurdles clocking 56.90 sec.

In the men’s running events best results were achieved in the long distance. Although the result were not world class, both the 5000m and 10,000m races were very good for any national level with plenty of personal bests as well. 21-year-old Yang Dinghong won the 5000m in a 13:49.02 personal best with Dong Guojian, also 21, setting another PB 13:49.60 for the second place. In the 10,000m Dong was also out-sprinted by Li Fei, another 21-year-old, this time. Li won with a 28:42.44 PB before Dong’s 28:42.70. The first five, all under 29 minutes, set personal bests. 5000m winner Yang Dingdong was third in 28:46.61, 19-year-old Zhao Bing fourth (28:49.54) and Cao Chengfa fifth (28:55.30).

27-year-old Shi Linzhong won the 3000m Steeplechase in a 8:39.17 season’s best.

In the footsteps of Liu Xiang

Yin Jing equalled his 13.67 sec personal best winning the 110m Hurdles with 18-year-old Xie Wenjun grabbing the second place in 13.79. Another Shanghai-born hurdler, like Liu Xiang, Xie is one of the most promising Chinese athletes. With a 13.47 personal best over the senior hurdles at the age of 18 he is right there on the same level Liu Xiang and Chinese number two hurdler Shi Dongpeng were at the same age. Liu went on to win the Olympics and set two World records and Shi was 5th in Osaka World Championships in 2007.

Xie could well be the next Chinese hurdler to reach a major championships final. He has already risen to sixth place on the Chinese all-time list with Liu (12.88), Shi (13.19), Li Tong (13.25), Chen Yanhao (13.37) and Ji Wei (13.40) ahead of him. Ji also competed in Zhaoqing, but was disqualified in heats.

Huang Haiqiang and Zhang Xiaoyi’s career’s regress

Xu Xin won the High Jump equalling his season’s best 2.20m, and 20-year-old Huang Haiqiang was fourth with a 2.15m season’s best. Huang, who won the World Junior Championships in Beijing 2006 with a great 2.32m personal best was thought to be one of the medal candidates at the 2008 Olympics, but his 2008 season was a disaster. He did compete in Beijing, but coming to the meet he had only cleared 2.10m and did not clear his opening height in the qualification.

Yu Zhenwei won the Long Jump with a 7.98m personal best and 19-year-old Zhang Xiaoyi competed for the last time as a junior getting the second place in the competition at 7.80m. Zhang, who a bit like Huang Haiqiang, has not done as well as expected following a huge 2006 season. Still being 16 years old in April 2006 Zhang set the Asian junior (and youth of course) record 8.17m and won the bronze medal at the World Junior Championships in Beijing. He still reached 8.09m in June 2007, but in 2008 he could not break the 8-metre line finishing the season with a 7.87m season’s best only.

17 metre jumper Wu Bo won the Triple Jump with a 16.61m result, but in second place was another super junior. Just 17-year-old Cao Shuo got another good result jumping 16.35m, just 7cm shy of his personal best 16.42m which he reached a week ago at the National Youth Championships in Taian.

Zhang Jun won the Shot Put with a 18.64m season’s best with Zhao Zhongjun in second with another season’s best of 18.12m. 17-year-old Zuo Shihao was third with a 17.81m personal best. Zuo won the National Youth Champs with a big 21.75m toss with the 5kg implement recently.

Wu Jian topped the Discus Throw competition with a 60.74m effort missing his personal best by just one centimetre. Zhou Heng won the Hammer Throw with a 67.45m personal best and 20-year-old Wang Qingbo threw 79.11m Javelin Throw, also a personal best and 10th Chinese all-time.

Qi Haifeng won the Decathlon competition with a 7552 total score. Qi is coming off a very difficult period with injuries – he holds the national record at 8290 from 2005 and is the only Chinese to exceed 8000 points in this event. This season his best was the 7835 points he totalled at the Olympics for 18th place.

National Games

Next season the most important event will be, like every four years, the National Games. The 11th edition of this prestigious competition is held in October 2009 in Jinan, the capital of the Shandong province. Competition will open on 11 October with athletics programme held towards the end of the long meet.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF

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