Chinese sprinter XIE Zhenye recently shared his approach to Olympic preparation with fans through Airbnb’s online experiences. In this exclusive interview with Tokyo 2020, he talks about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on his training, his thoughts on the 100m and 200m, and his goals for next year’s Olympics.
2019 was a year of surprises in Chinese athletics - and more specifically in sprinting. The person behind those surprises was Xie Zhenye, the current Asian no.1 in the men’s 100m and 200m.
According to the latest World Athletics Ranking, Xie now finds himself in the top 10 in both the 100m and 200m, standing at no.8 in the 100m and no.6 in the 200m. He is the only Asian sprinter to have secured top 10 positions in both events.
Xie, who turned 27 on 17 August, began sprint training in earnest in 2007, making his name by winning the 200m in the first-ever Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010.
With the accumulation of more experience, together with improved technique, tactics and mentality, Xie has continued to deliver excellent results on both a national and international level. In June 2018, he won the Meeting de Montreuil 100m title in a time of 9.97, becoming only the second Chinese athlete after SU Bingtian to break the 10 second mark.
At the 2019 Diamond League meeting in London, Xie broke the Asian 200m record in a time of 19.88 en route to winning the title, and at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Xie became the first Chinese sprinter ever to reach the final.
In addition to all of these personal records, Xie was also part of the Chinese relay team that won silver in the 2015 Beijing World Championships and came fourth at Rio 2016 - the best ever Olympic result for a Chinese 4x100m team.
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The impact of COVID-19 and Xie's response to the pandemic
While 2019 was the brightest year in Xie’s career to date, expectations for 2020 were soon dampened as the COVID-19 pandemic brought sport to a standstill. While the global crisis and postponement of the Olympic Games represented a heavy blow for Xie, he made the decision to deal with the new reality and overcome the obstacles in his way with positivity.
Recalling the moment he received the news about the postponement of Tokyo 2020, Xie Zhenye said: "The situation at the time was a sudden shock to me."
"The postponement of the Olympic Games has had a great impact on me, and I believe it is the same for any other athlete. Our Olympic preparation plan was ruined and we had to make serious adjustments.
"My personal adjustment was quick. I had a good 2019 and I really treat this postponement as a way of consolidating my 2019 form, in order to continue to perfect my skills and the small details.”
If the situation was different, Xie would have participated in several competitions in 2020, allowing him to experience issues that he would have been able to solve in training. It is the sort of logic Xie has used over the past years to improve his performance.
"There is no other way. It’s already a reality that the epidemic has greatly affected the training and competitions of many athletes," he explains. "During this period, everyone has used different methods to reduce the obstacles caused by the epidemic."
“Athletes from China and other countries have been actively participating in online competitions, using this method to adjust for the lack of competitiveness in training. It’s also a way to diversify our daily training. The obstacles are still there, but we still need to overcome them positively.”
Answering questions on the track
Xie’s schedule for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be a tough one. He is poised to compete in the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay.
His goal is to participate in all eight races these three events will offer, but he is fully aware of the physical challenges required to achieve it.
"It’s really a big test of my physical fitness, but I’m trying hard to improve it during training. I’m also trying to perfect my technique and the small details. You can see I made great strides in 2019, but the results are not consistent. Having come back from the USA, I’ve been focussing a lot on that.”
The humble Xie described breaking the Asian record in 2019 as a “coincidence”, but his next goal is to attempt to normalise those performances through his efforts.
A year after the record, Xie plans to answer questions about his consistency through his performances, saying “after this period of training, I feel I have improved a lot in all areas. I don’t believe my performances will drop, but with rapid changes on the track, can I get better and surpass my achievements? I hope to prove it on the track, instead of talking about it and not doing it.”
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100m his favourite event. Better chances in the 200m.
Xie has shown that he has an excellent understanding of his own strengths, but he is realistic about his chances in the events he will be competing in next year.
“I might be more competitive in the 200m because of my previous results. My 200m results have been relatively good. But I love the 100m more, because, after all, the 100m is the jewel of track and field. Everyone loves the 100m.”
But when it comes to which distance Xie will focus on more, the choice is not an easy one.
“Many of the world’s most outstanding athletes haven’t been able to make that choice, including Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin and the new generation such as Noah Lyles. Throughout history, athletes have achieved good results in both events at the same time. I also hope to be that kind of athlete. Both the 100m and the 200m are very important to me.”
Goals for Tokyo 2020
Xie, 27, competed at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, and jokingly refers to himself as a “veteran”.
When he spoke about his experiences during the Airbnb online session, he explains that his mentality was completely different during the past two Olympics.
“In 2012 I was still a newcomer. The trip to London was more about gaining experience. But four years later, with the improvements in my performance, I transformed from participant to competitor. I had the will to take on the world’s best athletes.”
But what type of mentality will he need to compete in Tokyo next year? The answer, according to Xie, is: “I’d say that I will go with a winning mentality. Because by the time Tokyo 2020 takes place, it will be my best time in terms of age, technique, tactics and physical conditions. I will give everything in Tokyo to show the best of myself.”
Xie has already set his eyes on a podium finish in Tokyo, declaring his goal clearly: “I’ll aim for the podium. I hope that China’s national flag will be raised in the stadium. It’s a dream I’ve had from the beginning of my career."
"I hope I can fulfill that dream.”
Keep-up your training, one defeat or win cannot define whether you are a loser or a winner.
Keep on doing what you should do, when conditions are ripe, success will come.
No-one is born strong, just born to be strong.
A message for the fans
Xie Zheng - an athlete who has maintained a constant focus on his training - has for many years used a motto to motivate himself: “Don’t be arrogant when you win, don’t be discouraged when you lose. Be present!”
He believes that “no-one is born strong, just born to be strong. Keep-up your training, one defeat or a win cannot define whether you are a loser or a winner. Keep on doing what you should do, when conditions are ripe, success will come."
But for sports fans eagerly anticipating the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Xie has this message to share with them:
“For our athletes, the one year postponement of the Olympic Games will make them stronger than before. I believe we will deliver a more passionate and competitive Games to sports fans, so that everyone can enjoy the Olympics."
“So I hope everyone will not be saddened by the postponement of the Olympics, but instead that it will give them greater expectations. Because I believe the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be the most competitive of all recent Olympics."
"The extra year will give you a push to achieve glory.”