Setting sights on greater –

Setting sights on greater



Chinese track and field stars showed great momentum in 2022 with major breakthroughs at last year’s World Athletics Championship, and Team China’s aces are planning to keep that spirit going to deliver more surprising performances in 2023, a crucial year in preparation for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Chinese athletes made headlines in July by winning six medals, including two precious golds, at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, United States.

The brightest star in Team China’s firmament was long jumper Wang Jianan, who won China’s first gold medal in any horizontal jumping event at the senior worlds by finishing with a season-best performance of 8.36 meters.

The second major surprise at the tournament was Feng Bin, who claimed gold in the women’s discus with a personal-best effort of 69.12 meters. Veteran shot putter Gong Lijiao won silver, while Zhu Yaming claimed a men’s triple jump bronze. Qieyang Shijie won two bronze medals in women’s race walking.

The great results in the US offer huge encouragement for Chinese track and field stars, who started their winter training in late 2022 to prepare for this year’s Asian Games and the 2023 World Athletics Championships. The long-term goal is the Paris Olympics.

“This year is crucial for all of our teams to prepare for the next Olympics. The priorities include avoiding injuries and to make sure that each athlete has their own training and competition plans,” said Chinese Athletics Association president Yu Hongchen during a visit to national team training in Shanghai.

However, Team China’s aces are well aware that the breakthroughs in 2022 will not guarantee that they can spring more surprises this season. Only hard and scientific preparation are the best solutions to the challenges awaiting them.

“There was an element of luck in Wang Jianan winning the gold. It was the result of him being in the right place at the right time, and in the right condition. We need to realize that he is still not a dominant force in the sport. I hope during the Paris Olympics, he can extend his best result to 8.45 meters” said Wang Guojie, the coach of Wang Jianan, during an athletics forum in Shanghai earlier this month.

According to Wang Guojie, a priority for Wang Jianan in the next two seasons is to avoid injuries, which stopped him exceeding 8.30m in the 2015, 2016 and 2021 seasons. A meniscus and a hamstring injury made him unable to beat 8.20m in the 2019 season.

“In 2018, Wang had no injuries and he was in peak condition. He managed to reach 8.36 meters in 2020 and 2022. So, we will have to ensure he doesn’t suffer any serious injuries in the coming two years,” Wang Guojie added.

“Through our analysis, his meniscus and hamstring injuries originated from certain exercises during training. We need to keep refining his training methods and improve his physical condition.

“We are reducing the proportion of jumping in his overall training plan to avoid injuries. Instead, we add more sprint sessions to level up his muscle strength. This change will reduce the impact on his knees during jumping sessions.”

As well as personalized training plans, Team China also provides the athletes with the state-of-the-art equipment and facilities to monitor their physical condition during training and offer scientific suggestions to help refine the process.

“For around a decade, such equipment and facilities have been employed by many national teams. But, in the early days, we didn’t have a comprehensive plan for using these tools,” said Wang Guojie.

“Now I will take Wan Jianan to use the equipment properly during daily training. This equipment now covers all parts of his training. So we can monitor and evaluate his speed, endurance, strength and coordination. Through that, we maximize the benefit of each training session.”

Thanks to personalized plans and scientific training methods, the 28-year-old discus world champion Feng can also enjoy a longer and more productive career.

According to Feng’s coach Li Weibin, despite the encouraging results in 2022, there’s still a gap between Feng and some of the top Europeans, such as Sandra Perkovic.

A major blow in Feng’s career was missing the Tokyo Olympic final due to a neck injury. It resulted in a long period of mental struggle, during which Feng considered quitting the sport.

“However, with medical treatment and a detailed recovery plan, Feng is now in a very stable condition. We just need to maintain that so that she can train properly,” said coach Li.

“We also have greater communication with her to encourage and help her, which is important for her mental stability and, thus, her performance during competitions.

“Our plans for her are refined constantly, and these plans are tested by the competitions. We even factor in the different equipment used and the weather conditions at the various competitions. We are prepared for many contingencies.”

Tracking the youth

As Team China veterans have passed the prime of their careers, Chinese athletics is in need of more young stars.

Take the men’s sprint as an example. Team China’s best medal hopes are still 33-year-old veteran Su Bingtian, who holds the men’s 100m sprint Asian record, and 29-year-old Xie Zhenye, who holds the men’s 200m sprint Asian record. The young generation of Chinese sprinters are still not ready to shoulder more responsibilities.

“The veterans are getting old, and the younger generation of sprinters are inexperienced. These are the main reasons why we have unsatisfying results right now,” Li Qing, Tsinghua University professor and former head coach of China’s sprint team, said during the recent forum in Shanghai.

“The fact that veterans Su Bingtian and Xie Zhenye are still trying their best to maintain their condition deserves our respect. However, we lack enough promising younger sprinters. This is the problem that we cannot ignore.”

Some have made headlines in recent years, such as Chen Guanfeng, who, along with Tang Xingqiang, Su and Xie, was in the Chinese 4x100m relay team at last year’s World Athletics Championships. However, many of the youngsters lack stability and some struggle with injuries.

“We do not have an efficient youth training system, and there’s a lack of communication and cooperation between the provincial level youth teams and the university teams,” Li Qing added.

“The teen years are a very important period. We need to build teams of different age groups. In different age groups, the runners have different goals to achieve. We need to refine the youth training system so we can find more talent for the national team.”

Li Qing also stressed the importance of scientific training for the young athletes to avoid injuries and enjoy longer careers.

Going the extra miles

Although China is still not a powerhouse in long-distance running at the professional level, nor does it have any marathon superstars, the sport has already become fashionable and attracts a greater number of people.

At last year’s World Athletics Championships in Oregon, China’s best result in the men’s marathon was 23rd place by Dong Guojian, while Zhang Deshun’s 11th place finish was Team China’s best performance in the women’s event. That showed the gap between Chinese athletes and the world’s top marathon runners. Moreover, China’s national men’s marathon record has not been beaten for 15 years.

“At the world’s top level of long-distance running, speed is very important. If we let the world’s top marathon runners compete in the 10,000 meters, most of them will get a result within 29 minutes, but our runners cannot run inside 30 minutes,” said Team China coach Li Li during a seminar of national athletic coaches in Shanghai earlier this month.

Speaking of the ways to improve, Li Li mentioned the need for a better training philosophy, avoiding injuries and keeping a positive mentality.

“As long as a runner can maintain the high quality of their training, they can improve. If the training methods are like a roller coaster, unstable and inconsistent, the runners can be easily injured or may have to retire early,” Li Li added.

Despite the gap at the elite level, the growing popularity of marathon and long-distance running allows people to feel confident about the future of the sport in China.

In November, the Beijing Marathon returned after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, attracting approximately 20,000 runners. Only 20 days later, on Nov 27, the Shanghai Marathon and the Xiamen Marathon returned, both running on the same day, and more events are scheduled for 2023.

“For beginners in the sport, the priority is to keep healthy and avoid injuries,” Li Li added. “Step by step, all runners can improve. And when you reach a higher level, actually, the gap between you and the top runners is mostly about the mentality. You need to find that passion and inner drive so you can run better and longer.”

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