Monday, July 28, 2008

Liu Xiang Readies for Beijing Olympics

There is a special treat in this week's Time Magazine, especially for those of us who are veterans and fans of tack & field, that forgotten sport that one only reads about in Sunday editions after the baseball scores have been reported and analyzed. But every four years in the spirit of Peace, it becomes our time again to celebrate and recall the days of our youth. It becomes a time again to celebrate health and youth and vitality. The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics are about to begin.

Pictured above is Liu Xiang. He is already a legend in his home country. Like the ancient martial artists, itinerant mendicants, Buddhist monks and Taoist wise men of China whom we have romanticized in the West, Liu's athletic success has depended upon unyielding concentration, disciplined training and a dedication to technical perfection. He is a hurdler.

Born in Shanghai, China, July 13, 1983, Xiang represents the hopes of his countrymen and has obtained to the status of national hero since winning the gold medal in Athens four years ago before going on to set a world record. He is only surpassed in fame by his countryman, Yao Ming, who plays for the NBA's Huston Rockets -- except during the Olympics when he joins his countrymen to play for the Chinese national basketball team.

Xiang was born two months before my "rebirth" into recovery, so I figure we're cohorts of the same generation of sorts.

Hurdling requires the focus and technique of someone in samadhi, like the ancient Zen archers of Japan. This young man stunned the nation of China when he came out of relative obscurity to win the 2004 Athens Olympics in the 110m hurdles, giving China her first gold medal in the summer games' sprint events. He has been blazing ever since. In July of 2006 he broke the world record for the second time and became the 6th man in history to run under 13 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles, with a time of 12.88 seconds.

That is blazing. I took the liberty of clipping this brief from his English website.

His current rival, Dayron Robles of Cuba, bested that time this year, clocking in at 12.87 seconds, only one-one/hundreth of a second faster.

In late May of this year, Xiang developed a strained right hamstring. He had to drop out of the meet the following week and was disqualified for twice jumping the gun in the next. Nevertheless, he has been able to take care of himself, preventing re-injury while staying in shape though the next several competitions in preparation for the big event coming in August.

The Olympics are certainly considered the big event, occurring only once every four-years, and carries more status among athletes and fans than even the World Championships.

Undoubtedly, he will be going into the Beijing Olympics facing his rival while still recovering. There is something about those odds that I admire deeply. Therefore, I will be following his progress with a personal interest, since I am a person with a heightened dedication to those in recovery, whether physical, psychological or spiritual. My concern is also aroused because of my identification with him, having experienced injury to the same muscle as a high school hurdler; although in my case, the hamstring muscle was torn during the regional meet at the end of my senior year, forcing me from the race and crushing my dreams of returning to the state finals.

In addition to his love of hurdling, this young man is possessed of a peerless social conscience. Even before the historic earthquake on May 12th of this year, a monster that the USGS meaursed at 7.9, devastated the Sichuan Province and resulted in what some have estimated to be up to 69,000 casualties, Liu Xiang had already joined with Jet Li in his relief efforts organized through The One Foundation, which Li founded, helping victims of the 2004 tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, the New Orleans victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2007 earthquake victims of China's Yunnan Province. In May, Xiang teamed up with his coach, Sun Haiping, to donate a large sum of money to the Sichuan Province relief effort, while he continues to work with Jet Li's organization as well.
I wish him the blessings and protections of the ancient ones. May he continue to represent his family and the many peoples of his country in a manner that recognizes and celebrates the greatest of their common traditions in upholding honor, right effort, good sportsmanship and responsible citizenship.

We certainly have much to learn from the peoples of the East regarding what we once held sacred, but no more honor -- the common good and the related tradition of noblesse oblige.

Explosive starts have also contributed to Xiang's success.
It goes without saying that he is the product of talented coaching.
Below is his coach, Sun Haiping, who is undoubtedly like a father to him.

It also goes without saying that Coach Sun has known for a long,
long time how to get around despite the high cost of gasoline.

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