Gu Yuan throwing in Paris 2003 where she was fourth (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Gu Yuan in top form as Chinese outdoor season opens

The Chinese outdoor season started last weekend with two warm-up events ahead of the first outdoor national grand prix meeting in Zhongshan, Guangdong province, 23-24 April.

A total of three low-key preparation meetings are being organized this season by the Athletic Association of the People’s Republic of China. The first two events were held on Saturday and Sunday (9 / 10 April) in Chengdu, Sichuan province, and in Zhaoqing, Guangdong province. The final pre-season preparation meeting will take place this coming weekend in Yichun, Jiangxi province.

Most of the star athletes were still resting last weekend with only a handful of them in action. The Olympic 110m Hurdles champion Liu Xiang will start his season in Yichun, as will women’s 100m hurdler Feng Yun and Asian Pole Vault record holder Gao Shuying.

CHENGDU - The talent of Ma Xuejun

The women’s Discus Throw saw a couple of youngsters recording fine personal bests. Ma Shuli won the competition with 60.72m, but Ma Xuejun, who just turned 20 last month, had her first 60m+ throw with 60.44m for the second place. Ma Xuejun will surely be one of the best hopes for a Chinese gold medal in the 2008 Olympics.

Ma Xuejun has an extraordinary record in major championships. She won the 2001 World Youth Championships and then went to take the World Junior title in 2002 as a 17-year-old and repeated the feat in Grosseto 2004, two years later. She also was a finalist grabbing 9th place in 2001 National Games as a 16-year-old – in China which is almost an impossible result for a Discus thrower of that age.

19-year-old Wang Yu took  third place with a personal best as well, 59.40m. Wang was fourth in the World Junior Championships in Grosseto last season.

Gu Yuan Hammers home talent

Gu Yuan started her Hammer Throw campaign well. 69.12m was more than enough for a win and Gu was happy with her start. She said that there have been no problems in training and that her goal this season is 76m and a gold medal in the Helsinki World Championships.

Gu took fourth place in the 2003 World Championships in Paris and was 10th in the Olympic Games last season. Her personal best is 72.36m which she recorded in Padua, Italy last summer.

18-year-old Liao Xiaoyan took second place with 64.54m, in 2003 she threw her personal best of 65.13m in the Chinese City Games.

In the women’s Shot Put Cheng Xiaoyan is still struggling to get to a better level. The 29-year-old, who has a personal best of 20.02m which has stood for almost 11 years now, from June 1994, has not been able to better 18 metres since 2002. With a result of 17.57m in the first outdoor meeting, she did however come closer to that 18m limit and might well have a better season in 2005. Cheng was fifth in the 1999 World Championships in Seville.

The Women’s Javelin throw saw a major upset when the favourite Xue Juan, the 19-year-old World Junior record holder (62.93m from 2003), only managed to throw 53.74m. However, maybe even a bigger surprise was that the winner of this competition, the 16-year-old Zhang Li who bettered her personal best by more than 3.5 metres to 57.56m. Last season, as a 15-year-old, she threw 53.98m.

Liu Haili won the Heptathlon with a total score of 5697 points with Dong Wangwei finishing second at 5555.

Young jumping talents on show in men’s events

In the men’s events in Chengdu 19-year-old Gu Junjie, who broke the national indoor Triple Jump record with 16.96m in March, started his outdoor season with a 16.40m jump. However, in the Long Jump he was already able to record a personal best in this first outdoor meeting with a 7.85m winning mark – he jumped 7.98m indoors this year.

Reigning National Games Pole Vault champion Wu Jun started his season with 5.30m - with that same result he won the 2001 Games in Guangzhou -  but this season that sort of height will not be enough. Although young star Liu Feiliang ended his competition after three failures on this occasion, he will surely challenge Wu later this season. Liu has jumped 5.50m this year indoors and last season he vaulted 5.55m for the Asian Junior record outdoors and 5.60m indoors.

Also the outdoor national record holder at 5.63m from 2000, 29-year-old Zhang Hongwei is back again. He is slowly recovering after a two-year-break following a motorcycle accident in the winter of 2001. He did compete in both 2003 and 2004, but until now he has not been back to his record level. Zhang jumped 5.40m indoors.

In the Discus Throw 19-year-old Wu Jian won with a personal best distance of 55.12m. Wu took the silver medal in the World Youth Championships in Sherbrooke, Canada in 2003. But for Asian Junior record holder at 62.36m, Tulake Nuermaimaiti, the start for the season was well below all expectations. Nuermaimaiti, who was second in the 2001 National Games as a 19-year-old with that AJR of 62.36m, only managed to throw 50.72m in this meeting.

In the Javelin Throw 33-year-old Li Rongxiang showed that he will still be the number one thrower during this season in China. Li, whose national record of 84.29m dates back to year 2000, recorded his best ever start for a season with a result of 81.61m. Li is naturally the defending National Games champion, but also a two-time World Championships finalist and is looking for a third one in Helsinki. In the Edmonton World Championships in 2001 he was 9th at 81.80m and in Paris 2003 he was 10th at 78.24m.

ZHAOQING - Shi Dongpeng on show

In the Zhaoqing meeting Shi Dongpeng, 21, the second best Chinese in the men’s 110m Hurdles who was the 2002 World junior silver medallist and took seventh in the 2003 Paris Worlds senior final, started his season with 13.72 result.

In the women’s 400m Hurdles 18-year-old He Yu set a big personal best of 56.79 for the fastest junior time in the world this season.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF