Shanghai (AFP) – World and Olympic hurdles champion Omar McLeod wants to put on a blistering display in Shanghai on Saturday in homage to the Chinese city’s athletics hero Liu Xiang.
Liu is retired but the Shanghai native remains a Chinese sports icon because his 2004 Olympic hurdles gold medal was the country’s first in men’s track and field.
Liu, now 34, was also a 2007 world champion, though his brilliant career petered out because of persistent injury and he retired in 2015.
But Chinese spectators may see shades of Liu in McLeod during Saturday’s Diamond League meeting — the affable Jamaican certainly hopes so.
McLeod, who is chasing a third successive 110m victory in Shanghai, said on Friday: “They show a good appreciation for hurdles here and I want to go out there and show my appreciation for their appreciation of hurdles.
“Liu Xiang was one of the reasons why I got into running in the streets and race and hurdle.
“He was just an inspiration and I’ve heard that I hurdle just like him, so I draw a lot from him,” said the 24-year-old McLeod, touted as a viable successor to Usain Bolt as the pre-eminent Jamaican athletics star.
There will meanwhile be home hope in the men’s 100m in the form of reigning Shanghai champion Su Bingtian, the world indoor 60m silver medallist and China’s fastest man, and Xie Zhenye.
But they will have to upstage current world champion Justin Gatlin of the United States.
Also in a strong field is the Canadian speedster Andre De Grasse, who is working his way back from a nine-month hamstring injury layoff that ruled him out of last year’s world championships.
He could only finish sixth in the 200m in Doha last weekend at the opening Diamond League meet of the season.
In women’s sprinting, two-time world champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands will be strong favourite in the 200m in the absence of the injured Jamaican star Elaine Thompson.
– Kendricks expects ‘dogfight’ –
Looming as a tasty battle in Shanghai will be a showdown between pole vaulters Sam Kendricks of the United States and his French rival and world-record-holder Renaud Lavillenie.
Like McLeod, Kendricks is pursuing a Shanghai treble after victories in 2016 and 2017.
Kendricks, 25, went on to land his first six-metre vault last June back home in the United States and then saw off Poland’s Piotr Lisek and Lavillenie to win gold at the world championships.
But Lavillenie, the older man at 31 and a former Olympic champion, beat Kendricks earlier this year for a third world indoor title.
Kendricks, who seduced the media in Shanghai with his laid-back charm, said he was anticipating “a dogfight”.
But he was full of respect for his French foe, saying: “It Is always very special when I get to answer a question about Renaud.
“Because I have to say that he is the king, the world-record-holder and multiple Diamond League winner.
“I once made a joke that he could put his bed on top of his Diamond League trophies.
“Every time I compete with him I learn from him and that is only by his grace and the competitive rivalry that we have — and our friendship — that I have been able to get this far in this event.”