Xing Huina of China celebrates winning the women's 10,000m (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Xing - the surprise of all surprises

Xing Huina added her name to the growing list of unlikely Olympic champions with her thrilling kick to win the 10,000 metres on Friday night (27 Aug).

"It's a surprise of all the surprises,” the 20-year-old Xing said. “I never expected that it could happen.”

Apparently others were surprised as well. So unassuming was the challenge of the young Chinese that runner-up Ejegayehu Dibaba of Ethiopia actually thought that she had won when she crossed the line, thinking that Huina was a lap behind.

But after her startling gold medal performance, Xing will no longer remain just another face in the crowd.

Originally from Weifang in China's Shandong Province, Xing's interest in sport began as a student in Weifang's Sports School when she was just 12 years old. With her budding talent discovered and her development progressing rapidly, she enrolled at the Provincial Institute of Sports Technique in 1999 to begin training more seriously. Taken under the wing of coach Wang Dexian, it's taken her little time to rise from the deep pool of Chinese talent while developing and exhibiting her extraordinary range.

A 4:30.67 1500 runner in 1999, she improved to 4:09.01 last year. In the 5000, she improved from a modest 16:11.09 in 2000 to 14:56.15 the following year. Her 10,000 debut in 2001 was 36:38.91, but she made an immediate breakthrough the following year with her third place finish at the Asian Games, clocking 30:42.58 at age 18. The following year, competing in the finest-ever 10,000 metre race, she set a World Junior record of 30:31.55 at the World Championships.

In her lead-up to Athens this year, she competed sparingly. She scored a double win at the Chinese National Championships in May, winning the 1500m (4:13.41), the day after a victory in the 5000 (15:23.20), her first over training partner Sun Yingjie. Two days later, she was a distant second behind her rival in the 10,000m (32:48.28).

She opened competition here seven days earlier, finishing ninth in the 5000m in 15:07.41, a performance she characterizes as a disappointment. But there was an upside, she said.

“My failure in the 5000 was difficult,” she said, adding that she felt she was stronger in the shorter event. ”But it put no pressure on me for my next race.”

Running pressure-free, she lopped more than a seven seconds off her best again, clocking 30:24.36 to become the second 20-year-old to win the Olympic 10,000m title. The other was Derartu Tulu, who went on to repeat as champion eight years later. With the next Olympics in Beijing, Xing is already looking ahead.

“Four years is a long time,” she told the Xinhua News Agency. “But it's every athlete's dream of winning a gold medal on home soil. I hope to do that.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF