China's track and field stars set sights on Olympic glory

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After an encouraging 2019, Chinese athletics is looking forward to next year's Tokyo Olympics with a renewed sense of optimism.

That was the main message from a Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) meeting on Monday in Xiamen, Fujian province, where some of the nation's top athletes reaffirmed their determination to do the nation proud in Tokyo.

"If I had to grade myself on this season, I could only give myself 80 points out of 100," said world champion shot-putter Gong Lijiao, who won 12 golds and one silver at the 13 meets she entered in 2019.

Gong Lijiao of China competes during Women's Shot Put Final on Day 6 of the 2017 IAAF World Championships at London Stadium in London, Britain, on Aug. 9, 2017. Gong Lijiao claimed the title with 19.94 metres. (Xinhua/Luo Huanhuan)

"Honestly speaking, my winning throw of 19.55 meters at the world championships in Doha was well below my expectations. In better conditions, I could easily have exceeded 20 meters.

"At these competitions, I just wanted to tune up in order to have a better performance next year.

"It's all about confidence. I want others to know as long as I'm competing, I will have the championship title."

The 30-year-old is showing no signs of relinquishing her grip on the sport and says she won't even think about retirement until the next generation of Chinese shot-putters are making their mark on the global stage.

"I will only retire when our younger athletes grow strong enough," said Gong. "Even if I can achieve my dream of winning gold in Tokyo, I will not retire if no one can take my place.

"Our younger female shot-putters are still not stable enough. Some can't even guarantee an 18m performance... so as long as our country needs me, I will gear up and fight."

According to the CAA, one world record, five Asian records, six Chinese national records and 11 national under-20 and youth records were refreshed by Chinese athletes in 2019.

Liu Hong became the first woman ever to break four hours (3:59:15) in the 50-kilometer race walk in Huangshan, Anhui province, in March.

In September, Liu claimed her third world 20km race walk title in Doha, one of three gold medals for China at the championships in the Qatari capital.

After winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Liu took a break from the sport to give birth to her daughter.

The 32-year-old returned to competition early this year and proved in Doha she still has what it takes to top the podium.

"The Chinese team won three gold, three silver and three bronze medals at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, finishing fourth in the medal table with a total of 99 points," said Yu Hongchen, vice-president and secretary general of the CAA, in Xiamen.

"It was our best performance at the world championships since the 1993 edition."

Javelin thrower Lyu Huihui improved her own Asian record three times this year to 67.98m, while pole-vaulter Li Ling renewed her continental record to 4.72m, at May's Shanghai Diamond League meet.

Sprinter Xie Zhenye became the first Chinese to dip under the 20-second mark in the 200m when he clocked 19.88 at July's London Diamond League meet. The result knocked 0.09sec off the previous Asian record achieved by Qatari Femi Ogunode four years ago.

Apart from the breakthroughs at elite level, grassroots athletics in China has also had plenty to cheer about this year.

Over eight million people participated in over 1,900 CAA-sanctioned road races in 2019, according to Xinhua. Twenty-four of those events featured on World Athletics' calendar-representing the biggest share for a single country or region.

CAA vice-president Wang Nan became the first Asian woman to be elected to the council of World Athletics, while Chinese sprinter Su Bingtian was appointed to the global body's athletes commission.

"The role you have played for so many years in helping us globalize athletics has been absolutely central to the development of our sport," said World Athletics president Sebastian Coe in a video message played at the two-day meeting in Xiamen.

The Englishman added: "Thank you for everything that you have done for so many years. And as president of World Athletics, I look forward to working particularly closely with you for many years to come."

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