Sun, Aug 09, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Asia’s hopes of athletics glory are worst in years

AFP , SINGAPORE

Yoko Shibui of Japan crosses the finish line to win the women’s division of the San Francisco marathon in San Francisco on July 26.

PHOTO: AP

Asian hopes of glory at the World Athletics Championships are the worst in years, with nobody stepping up to fill the void left by heavyweights such as Liu Xiang and Koji Murofushi.

At the last championships in Osaka two years ago, Asian competitors mustered eight medals between them, with two gold — China’s Liu in the 110m hurdles and Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal in the women’s 1,500m.

They could be stretched to match that in Berlin, with Liu still recovering from the Achilles injury that destroyed his Beijing Olympic dream. Although he recently started training again, his coach Sun Haiping said the defending world champion was targeting the National Games for his return in October, ahead of the Asian athletics championships in November.

With Liu out, Chinese hopes in the event rest with his understudy Shi Dongpeng and the improving Yin Jing, although neither are expected to medal.

Women’s discus throwers Song Aimin and Ma Xuejun, and Gong Lijiao in the shot put are perhaps their best chances of success, with few other serious contenders.

Head coach Feng Shuyong said they would use the event to blood youngsters as they prepare for the London Olympics in 2012.

“It will be a fairly tough championships,” Feng said.

He said even in the marathon, where China has previously been competitive, they now have no athlete of note.

“Zhou Chunxiu and Zhu Xiaolin used to be athletes who could compete for the gold medal in the marathon, but because of their age and injuries they have lacked training and exercise in recent years,” he said.

Nevertheless, the marathon is where Asians could succeed.

Japan’s Yoko Shibui has the third fastest women’s time this year and will be hoping to better the 14th place finish she managed at the Beijing Olympics after winning in San Francisco last month.

Japan has several other marathon runners who could push for a medal, including Yoshimi Fujinaga, Yukiko Akaba and Yuri Kano.

“I’m tuning up to take top places. I hope I can win a medal or finish in the top eight,” Akaba said.

Hammer thrower Murofushi, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, is due to compete in Berlin, but looks to be past his best and is suffering from lumbago.

“I don’t expect him to be back in form this year. We’re thinking of having an operation for lumbago and a hip joint,” his father Shigenobu Murofushi said.

Another Japanese hope, the 2005 world 400m hurdles bronze medalist Dai Tamesue, is sidelined with a left knee injury.

Japan’s Masashi Eriguchi has run a wind-assisted 10.07 seconds in the 100m this year, but remains light years away from Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell.

While home-grown talent in Asia is limited, the region has plenty of imports to carry the torch, but Bahrain’s Olympic 1,500m champion Rashid Ramzi will not be one of them.

Ramzi was one of five athletes caught out by dope tests conducted in February for the new form of banned blood booster EPO-CERA and he faces being stripped of his Olympic medal and a minimum two-year suspension from all events.

Bahrain still has medal opportunities, with the US-born Latroy Williams, Chris Brown and Andrae Williams in the men’s 400m all clocking good times this year.

With Ramzi out, Belal Mansoor Ali will fly the Bahraini flag in the 1,500m. Maryam Yusuf Jamal is back to defend her women’s 1,500m title and, with the fastest time in the world this year, she starts as favorite.

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