LIU Xiang: China's hurdling star at 20

Liu Xiang of People's Republic of China competes in the men's 110m hurdle semi-final during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Liu Xiang of People's Republic of China competes in the men's 110m hurdle semi-final during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Ever wondered what your favourite sportspeople were like before they were super-mega-famous? Every week Tokyo 2020 will give you a glimpse into what life was like for some of the world’s greatest athletes before they were stars.

The Deets

  • Name: LIU Xiang
  • Age: 37
  • Nationality: Chinese (P.R.C.)
  • Profession: Athletics - 110m hurdles

What has he achieved?

LIU Xiang is the most accomplished athlete in the history of Chinese athletics. Before him, no Chinese athlete had ever won a medal in an Olympic sprint event.

Born in Shanghai, People's Republic of China, Liu first became involved in athletics as a high jumper. Then, at the age of 16, he started to train in hurdles with his coach SUN Haiping.

Liu was very fast at the time, so he and his coach decided to put more focus on hurdling. And from that moment, his legend was born.

Inspired by the achievements and performances of Allen Johnson and Colin Jackson, Liu improved very quickly and went on to win many titles, including four World Athletics Championship medals (one gold, two silvers and one bronze); three consecutive Asian Games gold medals and the medal that made him world famous - the gold at Athens 2004.

Liu Xiang celebrates after he finished first in the men's 110m hurdle final at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games. Liu equalled the world record of 12.91 seconds (Photo by Stuart Hannagan/Getty Images)
Liu Xiang celebrates after he finished first in the men's 110m hurdle final at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games. Liu equalled the world record of 12.91 seconds (Photo by Stuart Hannagan/Getty Images)
2004 Getty Images

Surprising fact

On 27 August 2004, the People's Republic of China’s new hurdling star made his name on the world’s greatest sporting stage. In the men’s 110m hurdles final, he broke Europe and the USA's monopoly winning the gold medal in 12.91 seconds - equalling the world record in the process. The result also saw him break the Olympic record - a mark that continues to stand until today.

After Athens 2004, Liu soon became a household name in his home nation, with the only athlete comparable to him at the time being Chinese NBA superstar YAO Ming.

At the 2006 IAAF Super Grand Prix in Lausanne, Switzerland, Liu achieved a time of 12.88 seconds, breaking the 13-year-old world record set by Great Britain’s Colin Jackson. In the same year, he won the IAAF Grand Final in Stuttgart, Germany.

In August 2007, Liu won the gold medal at the Osaka World Athletics Championships with a time of 12.95 seconds, becoming the only male athlete in history to have achieved the "triple crown" in the 110m hurdles: world record holder, World Champion, and Olympic champion.

Liu Xiang at age 20
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What is he up to now?

Following a number of injuries, Liu’s level of performance began to drop and he withdrew from both Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

On 7 April 2015, Liu hung up his spikes for good, publishing a statement about his retirement on Weibo.

After his retirement, Liu participated in a number of reality TV shows, during which he even hurdled again. But most of his time was spent living a low-key life, as he gradually faded from the public eye.

When he was competing, Liu stated that he never had enough time to spend with his family and that he felt he owed them a lot. Now, his wish has come true, and the shining star of Chinese athletics is able to live the life he always dreamt of.