Lijiao Gong putting for bronze in Berlin (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Gong Lijiao puts 20.35m to highlight the first day of Chinese National Games

The evening competition of the 11th National Games in Jinan, China was carried out in chilly weather. Temperature was 21 Celsius at the start of the session, but quickly dropped to 16C before the end of the competition at around 8.30pm. The weather however didn’t prevent athletes from performing well, on the contrary, as the first day of competition featured more top results than expected with no weak finals at all.

It was no real surprise that the best result came in the women’s Shot Put which also seemed to be the favourite event of the crowd. Several athletes in the competition had fan groups in the stands making noise and making sure no one missed their favourite’s efforts.

20-year-old Gong Lijiao, naturally competing in her first National Games was the only pick for the win here and the youngster who won the World bronze medal in Berlin earlier this summer didn’t disappoint. Gong, fresh off her 19.89m personal best in Berlin started with a good 19.04m release taking the lead from the start.

The surprise of the round one was Li Ling’s newly found form as the Osaka 2007 World Championships fourth placed athlete who had big trouble earlier this season beat her yearly best by a huge margin of 61 centimetres with 18.87m to challenge Gong and reigning National Games champion Li Meiju who had won her second straight title in 2005.

Li Meiju also started well with 18.79m and it was clear that the competition for the medals would be tight. But young Gong put the gold off the reach of others with her second try reaching 19.83m, just 6cm less than her personal best. Li Ling progressed to 18.95m in round two with Li Meiju reaching 18.88m in round three and 18.89m in round five. With the two Lis fighting for the silver, Gong was putting together a very good series with 19.27m 3rd, 19.43m 4th and then a new best in the competition with 19.85m in round five.

Like so many times before round six proved to be decisive. Liu Xiangrong, who was 10th in Berlin but had started less impressively got closer to the medals in round five with 18.41m, but as she fouled her last throw she was fourth in the competition. Li Meiju then unleashed a huge 19.38m throw to add 20cm to her earlier personal best 19.18m from the Beijing Olympics qualification last year and although Li Ling was also able to get her best result with her last throw a 18.97m season’s best was only good for the bronze today.

Gong came to her last throw looking relaxed and unleashed a huge 20.35m throw to add 46 centimetres to her personal best. However, officials and cameramen were in the wrong place waiting for a 19m-something throw with the shot flying well beyond the place where the officials were standing and out of the TV picture as well.

20.35m is the best Chinese result for 15 years and six days! On October 15, 1994 Sui Xinmei was the last Chinese to go further winning the Asian Games with 20.45m in Hiroshima, Japan.

The 20-year-old Gong is now in seventh place in the Chinese all-time list with all of the six results above her achieved 1988-1994. Li Meiju is in equal 14th together with Li Ling and 19 Chinese have thrown 19 metres until now. Gong’s result is also the best in the world by a 20-year-old for more than 19 years, on August 20, 1990 Astrid Kumbernuss (GER) threw 20.38m to win the European Championships in Split. Competition was expectional also behind the top with seven athletes setting a personal best in the top nine with one additional season’s best. Zhang Qiang was fifth with 17.67m, 18-year-old Meng Qianqian 17.52m, second best junior mark this season for sixth. Ma Qiao was seventh with 17.30m and another 18-year-old Cui Shuang eighth with 17.07m, all personal bests.

Zhang Wenxiu's mighty last round 74.25m cements title

In the women’s Hammer Throw, Olympic bronze medallist Zhang Wenxiu got off to a slow start and was leading only with a 67.83m result after round two with Hao Shuai coming close in round three with a 67.63m season’s best. This was a good wake-up call for Zhang who then progressed to 71.24m in the same round and a 72.86m season’s best in round five adding 14 centimetres to her earlier season’s best 72.72m from the Berlin qualification.

Zhang, who was fifth in Berlin World Championships, did the same as Gong Lijiao and hit her best throw in the last round having already won the competition with the hammer landing at 74.25m, more than 1.5 metres to her season’s best and the sixth best mark in the world this season.

Hao Shuai was second with 67.63m and Wang Zheng third at 64.61m. 23-year-old Zhang won her first National Games title with third try, in 2005 she was second and fourth in 2001.

15:11.72 win for Xue Fei

In the women’s 5000m, which was a straight final this time with a huge 29 athletes starting, one star was missing. 25-year-old 10000m Olympic champion from 2004, Xing Huina, who won this event in 2005 and finished in second place in 2001, had been training to compete here, but pulled off at the last minute.

20-year-old Xue Fei, who made the Olympic final in this event last year, was the number one favourite and in the end of there was no second guessing about the best 5000m runner in China.

The race started with a quite even pace going under 15:30 and there where four athletes left with 1500m metres to go with Zhu Yingying in the lead. With three laps to go Zhang Xin was in second place and Xue Fei moved to third and the medals were quickly decided with other dropping back quickly. The trio reached 4000m in 12:21.39 and were together until 550m left when Zhu was dropped back. Xue and Zhang passed the bell in 14:04 and started the final straight side by side with 1500m specialist finally taking the lead with some 70 metres to go finishing in 15:11.72 to win the National Games title in her first meet.

It was a season’s best and second best career result for Xue and personal bests were achieved by all athletes who followed her in places 2-9. In fact the first 21 runners in the race reached either personal or season’s bests!

It was the second successive sprint finish defeat for the 20-year-old Zhang Xin set a big personal best 15:13.30 in second place which cut more than 45 seconds off her previous best. Zhang also finished second in the marathon (on Sunday 18) where she entered the stadium in Beijing together with Marathon World champion Bai Xue who will be running the 10,000m here.

Zhu Yingying was third in 15:16.57 bettering her 2007 PB by almost 19 seconds. Jia Chaofeng was fourth in 15:27.07 and Zhu Yanmei fifth in 15:29.62.

Veteran Xue Fei wins 3000m Steeplechase in 8:25.11 PB

The only men’s final of the first evening was 3000m Steeplechase. 31-year-old veteran Sun Wenli, competing in front of his home Shandong crowd, had the possibility to do the same with Liu Xiang, to win a third successive National Games title 2001-2009. Furthermore Sun had also finished in third place with a long standing personal best 8:29.57 in the prestigious 1997 Games in Shanghai where Sun Ripeng won with a 8:10.46 national record.

Yesterday Sun, and the biggest favourite, 22-year-old national champion Lin Xiangqian, who has been the best steeplechaser in China for a few years, made sure that the race was going to be fast from the start. The two easily split from the others staying together until the last lap where like so many times before Sun again proved to be strongest clocking a surprising 8:25.11 personal best for his third successive National Games title and fourth straight medal finish 1997-2009. Sun’s earlier PB had been set in the 1997 National Games standing for an unbelievable 12 years and two days before finally falling. Lin also set a personal best 8:27.14 lowering his 2006 mark by more than two seconds.

Qualifications

In the women’s 100m Hurdles heats all the favourites advanced, but Sun Yawei  the 22-year-old national champion with 13.15 sec this season was already fast setting a 13.12 personal best. The 32-year-old reigning champion Liu Jing missed her season’s best by only 0.01 seconds hurdling to 13.33 and her third National Games final. She was second already in 1997 with a 12.76 personal best and won in 2005 clocking 12.96 then. Another previous National Games winner Su Yiping made it to the final too clocking a season’s best 13.53. Su won in 2001 with a fast 12.70 wind aided mark and was second in 2005 behind Liu Jing.

16-year-old Lu Minjia topped the Long Jump qualification with a 6.52m leap which is close to her 6.54m personal best achieved at the National High School Championships during the Berlin World Championships. Zhang Lan qualified with a 6.38m season’s best and another automatic qualifier was 23-year-old Triple Jump specialist Xie Limei who set a season’s best 6.33m in her first outdoor Long Jump competition this season. Li was eighth at the 2007 World Championships and reached the final in Beijing Olympics and Berlin World Champs as well.

In the women’s 100m heats, Che Jue was fastest clocking a 11.50sec season’s best and favourite Wang Jing also topped her heat with a 11.63 sec run. In the men’s heats Zhang Peimeng looked really convincing easily winning his heat in a 10.35 season’s best easing up in the end. Other favourites like Su Bingtian, Lu Bin, Liang Jiahong and Guo Fan also made it to the semi-finals.

In the men’s High Jump qualification 2.10m was enough for the final. Huang Haiqiang and Zhang Shufeng were within the first ten athletes who all cleared 2.15m.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF

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