FLYING PERSON: Sprinter Lao Yi greets spectators after his victory on November 22 (LIAO YUJIE)
The 25-year-old sprinter Lao Yi is known to all Chinese today thanks to his outstanding performance at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province.
On November 22, Lao stormed to a historic victory in the men's 100 meters, clocking 10.24 seconds to become the first "sprint king" from China at the Games held on November 12-27.
"I didn't expect to win, but it would have been nice to have run a personal best," said Lao. "I was kind of hoping to break the national record here."
Lao was born in a small town in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and is now studying at Jiangxi Normal University. At 1.75 meters high, Lao does not look remarkable in physique or in style.
"He is a simple guy and not used to wearing flashy gear," said Chen Wenzhong, Lao's coach.
Before the Games, Lao's exploits were few. At the Shandong National Games last year, he did not take part in the 100 meters but competed in a relay event.
Lao suffered injuries in previous years and missed many competitions. Although he did not obtain qualification for individual events at the National Games last year, his average speed in the 100 meters had reached 10.35 seconds, Chen said.
Lao's great leap forward occurred this year at the National Championships in June, which he won in 10.21 seconds, the best result by a Chinese sprinter since 2003.
During the national trials for the Guangzhou Games, Lao recorded 10.31 seconds to secure a berth on the squad after honing his strength.
"I just focused on physical training for strength due to my past injuries," Lao said. "The result at the national trials gave me a lot of encouragement and boosted my confidence to win in Guangzhou."
The Guangzhou Asian Games is actually the first international competition Lao attended, Chen said.
With the absence of Qatar's Samuel Francis, who set an Asian record of 9.99 seconds in 2007, Lao was the favorite of the race.
Francis was disqualified in the semifinals due to a false start earlier in the day.
Lao did not take the lead at first, but he made a strong sprint in the last meters to win his gold.
"I had a slow start and then I sped up, which is my usual rhythm," he said. "I maintained a high speed later on and became more and more relaxed."
Despite his blistering pace, Lao, who now has his eyes firmly fixed on next year's World Championships, was 0.07 seconds shy of the Chinese record set by Zhou Wei in 1998.
"I'm still not too satisfied with my performance today. I know I can do better."
Aiming to improve
As the most exciting and fiercest event in track, the men's 100-meter competition has always had an extraordinary attraction to audiences.
In Chinese sports history, many 100-meter sprinters, such as Chen Jiaquan, Yuan Guoqiang and Zheng Chen, have been well-known to the Chinese people.
At the Asian Championships in Athletics held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in September 1985, Zheng claimed the gold with 10.28 seconds and set the then new Asian record.
In 1986, Li Tao clocked 10.26 seconds at the event at the Asian Junior Championships and bettered the Asian record again.
However, Chinese athletes have been trapped in a recession in the event since then.
"Lao's breakthrough will bring new hopes to China's sprint events," said Chen.
"Besides, Lao is just in a rising period so that there will be many opportunities for him to dash in 10.10 seconds," he said. "It will not be long until he breaks the national record."
However, Chen also admitted that it will be difficult for Lao to sprint within 10 seconds, due to the gap with world-class athletes.
"Whatever, we will arrange a scientific training in the following period to help him climb his best," Chen said.