During the course of nearly 16 months since Liu Xiang became Olympic 110m Hurdles champion, equalling the World record in Athens, we have reported on a whirlwind of awards and accolades which have blown in the direction of the 22-year-old Shanghai born star.
As the first ever male Chinese athlete to win a gold medal in Olympic track and field history, Liu Xiang has been feted throughout this country of one billion inhabitants. As well as receiving lucrative sponsorship contracts which have placed him in the top-three in the national earnings list for entertainers and sports celebrities, a school text book, and a short theatrical play have been devised around his life. He has also taken up a national publicity role fronting a campaign to increase public awareness about environmental protection, and also a civic position as an ambassador to promote his home city of Shanghai.
Liu Xiang of China - silver medallist at 110m Hurdles
The World Championship silver medallist, who is currently the IAAF World Ranked number 4 for his event, continues to do no wrong in his role as a national icon. Last month a brown sculpture based on his World record finish in Athens went on display at a park in Shanghai. Then early in December a Chinese internet search engine Baidu.com released a list of its most popular keywords according to hits from internet users, and yes, you’ve guessed it, the hottest sports name was “Liu Xiang”.
Liu Xiang’s stardom is soaring, which is somewhat appropriate given that “Xiang” in Chinese means “to fly”.
Yet while he couldn’t manage quite enough strength to swoop ahead of Frenchman Ladji Doucouré this summer in Helsinki, in the academic field nothing has been left to chance. Liu Xiang has recently been fast tracked into a doctoral programme of study at the School of Sports and Health Care at the East China Normal University, without having to provide any intellectual credentials.
China’s Xinhua news agency, reporting on Liu Xiang’s unconditional acceptance onto the course quoted the words of The Shanghai Daily, “such is a very ‘Chinese’ logic - the authority and honour one gains in a certain field prevails, and brings the person bigger authority and honour in literally every other field…a typical Chinese style, cross-field meritocracy.”
Liu Xiang has been “awarded” admission into a five-year sports management programme and is trusted to succeed in the academic world as he has done in sports. However, considering that the University has prepared a special advisory team of more than 10 professors to cater to Liu Xiang’s needs, nothing is being left to chance.
The Olympic champion has certainly been given a head start, and with such an array of advisors to assist him, there is little doubt that whatever demands his sporting commitments place on his scholarly pursuits in the period running up to the defence of his Olympic title in Beijing 2008, the appearance of “Dr. Liu Xiang” on a start list, sometime, somewhere, can only be a matter of time.
Xinhua and Chris Turner for the IAAF