Liu Xiang Talkasia Transcript
TALK ASIA INTERVIEW WITH LIU XIANG
SG- Stan Grant
SG: If there is one enduring image of the 2004 Athens Olympics it is of China's champion 110 meter hurdler, Liu Xiang, as he jumped up on the winner's dais arms aloft, a smile beaming across his face.
He had not just won gold, he had re written the history books -- the first Asian man to win a power track even, the first Chinese man to win track and field gold.
Hello I'm Stan Grant, welcome to Talk Asia. This week we are talking to Liu Xiang about his monumental victory, about the pressures and the responsibilities that come with that and his quest to repeat that gold medal effort in Beijing 2008.
SG: That moment when you're lining up to start the 110 meter hurdles final in Athens, what was going through you mind?
LX: To be honest, my mind at the time was a complete blank. I wasn't thinking about anything because I already felt like I'd achieved an important breakthrough. Until then, there had never been an Asian in the final of that event in the Olympics, so that was already an accomplishment. I just wanted to make sure I did the best I could, run as fast as I could. That was all I was thinking at the time.
SG: That moment when you crossed the finish line and you realized you'd won -- what was the feeling?
LX: As I said, during that entire time, my mind was blank. When I won, everything felt surreal. It's hard to describe -- I felt like I was floating, that all my actions and my words...they weren't coming from me. It was like I was watching someone else doing those things, saying those things. I really couldn't express myself because I was too happy and excited. I couldn't take in everything that was going on. It was as if the whole world had turned upside down.
SG: You say the world had turned upside down, well it certainly turned upside down for athletics, you'd broken through the barrier, an Asian man had won a major sprint event at the Olympics. How do you make sense of that? How do you realize the historical importance of that?
LX: It was important because in the past, the Europeans and Americans used to think that Asians weren't good enough to succeed in track and field events, that we weren't a threat. Especially in the men's events. And we ourselves... we used to think that because we're Chinese, track and field wasn't something we could do. And we thought we should stick to events that we were traditionally good at -- table tennis, diving, badminton, the technical sports like gymnastics. So I think that by winning, I achieved something for Asian athletes...I gave them the message that as long as we show dedication and belief, and as long as we give it our best, we can do anything.
SG: It's been said, I think Colin Jackson the world record holder, said that you ran the perfect race, that you were the perfect hurdler. What does it mean to you to have that sort of compliment from someone like him?
LX: Collin Jackson was a little before my time and he was a really good athlete. I've raced with him, but he's now retired. He's a really good role model and someone that I've learnt a lot from. And of course his world record is always something to aim for. I felt I did pretty well in my race, but my start could have been better. If I work on that, if I can improve my power and strength, then maybe I can break his world record.
SG: How much does winning a gold medal change your life?
LX: When the Olympics ended, I felt...that the world had changed, that MY world had changed a lot. There was endless interviews, photo opportunities, media events, speeches...there was just so much happening. From the moment I got off the plane coming home from the Olympics, I felt the glare of the spotlight on me. All the cameras everywhere, and everyday I was busy rushing from one thing to another...one interview to another. For a whole month after the Olympics, it just didn't stop.
It wasn't the life I wanted. Things are better now that the attention has subsided a bit, and I'm happier. Now I can concentrate on what I'm supposed to do, that is, training and running. Despite everything that's happened, I feel like I'm still the same person.
SG: Do you think that your win there has influenced another generation of athletes, young athletes in China to follow your lead?
LX: I feel that...well, I feel that the most important thing that I did was achieve the breakthrough for others. With my win, I hope I can encourage others, and tell them that no matter what obstacles they face, what difficulties there are, all they need is to work hard and face the challenges head on. Challenges are meant to be met and overcome. Everyone can do it!
SG: We're going to just take a break now. When we come back we'll look at the early days of Liu Xiang. What put him on the road to gold medal glory?
SG: Before he was a hurdler, Liu Xiang was a high jumper. Perhaps he could have been a gold medalist in that, but something happened along the way to change course. We are going to talk now to Liu Xiang about what it is that turned him into the top athlete that he has become.
SG: Your mother said that when you were young you used to run around and jump everywhere. When did you realize that you had a sporting talent?
LX: When I was younger, I used to be a high jumper before I switched to hurdles. But I really felt that I wasn't very suited as a high jumper, because my skills weren't very good, and I wasn't getting any taller! So I decided to switch to hurdles. It was a good move -- the timing, the opportunity, the coach -- everything was right and it was a good decision to change disciplines. My coach is really someone I work well with, he and I have been a good fit. We're like partners, and hopefully we can have an even more successful future working together.
SG: How much sacrifice do you have to give? How much dedication is needed to achieve that gold -- of winning gold?
LX: Honestly, training is very tough. It's very hard work. It's only when you get used to it that it's not so bad. You just have to do what it takes and be the best because this is your profession. I feel like I've been very fortunate to have won a gold medal at the Olympics. A lot of people have such dreams...I'm lucky to have realized mine.
SG: It's been said of China -- China's been criticized for trying to manufacture athletes, for getting young children out of school and putting a lot of pressure on them to perform. Was that your experience?
LX: I don't see that happening with the athletes that you see now. Maybe it was that way in the past, but things have changed. There have been a lot of improvements to the system, and the talent of the athletes have increased a lot too. So what you've described doesn't happen as much these days. Take myself for example -- each day I train for only 3 hours, and a lot of it has become very scientific...from the massage I get, to the specially designed training schedule.
SG: And of course there is a lot of pressure on you now will 2008 in Beijing coming up -- the expectation that you are going to win the gold medal. How do you deal with that?
LX: There is always pressure. But for me now, the most stressful time is over. Now, what I feel is more happiness, and satisfaction. Because I've realized my dream. I guess if you can realize a dream, it doesn't matter how great the pressure is; it's worth it in the end.
SG: But Beijing 2008, there is so much to be expected of China, and so much to be expected of Chinese athletes, on running of gold medals. As the reigning gold medalist, how are you going to deal with that expectation?
LX: China has the largest population in the world, we have billions of people! So during the Games, not all of them are going to be able to watch the events in the stadium. Most of them will only be able to watch the competition on TV. I think China has a great number of excellent athletes. The number of gold medals we won in the 2004 Olympics in Athens was the second highest tally among all the countries. I think in 2008, we can surpass America in winning gold medals and become No. 1. That should be possible as long as everyone works hard and have that goal. For myself, I will try to forget the pressure and work as hard as I can to realize my dream for a second time!
SG: It's been said that winning a gold medal is like winning a million dollars, that the endorsements and the sponsorships make you a wealthy man. Has it made you rich?
LX: I feel that often in life, material satisfaction is inferior to spiritual satisfaction. You just cannot compare the feeling of being emotionally fulfilled. That's really what I think. If a person has too much money, then money is just about numbers. It's actually very simple -- if you perform well and get good results, you will get rewarded. That's the way it works. At the moment, I think that among my peers, I consider myself a rich man (laughs). But I still think that spiritual wealth is so much more important than material wealth.
SG: But how do you deal with the pressures of sponsorship and your responsibilities to sponsors and also maintain your commitment and dedication as a top athlete?
LX: I think that a top athlete should get involved in many different things. We are all members of society and we should be active in it. If I detach myself from society, I would feel very lonely. So I think everyone has a responsibility to try everything. And modern athletes should learn and be prepared to face different aspects of fame. I think that's important.
SG: Yourself and Yao Ming a very much the faces of China, the icons of China's sporting success, you represent China to the international community. Do you compare yourself with him, and have you had the same opportunities, the same sponsorship opportunities that he's had?
LX: Oh, I've never thought about comparing myself with Yao Ming. Yes, of course we are both from Shanghai, and we are both Chinese. But there really is no need for comparison, because both of us have our own dreams and our own careers. And they are very different.
What's more, our professions are different -- he plays basketball and I focus on track so there's no direct competition.
We do often bump into each other and see each other at events, however, and when we do, we usually chat about life and all sorts of other things. I find those meetings very interesting and enjoyable. As for comparing our endorsements...I don't know how to answer this! I think the number of commercials that I do is reasonable. All of them are arranged and approved by the authorities. There are rules and regulations -- it's not as simple as just doing any advertisement or commercial endorsements that I want. But I'm an athlete, and as an athlete, my professional life isn't very long. I may have to retire in my thirties, so I think any athlete should try to make good use of his youth. Having said that, when doing endorsements, it's important to choose the right products. You need to choose products that match your image.
SG: Of course every athlete has to look at life beyond the track. Winning a gold medal has brought a lot of opportunities, but also a lot of responsibilities. When we come back -- the future for China's gold medal hero.
SG: For Liu Xiang as well as many other gold medalists, winning at the Olympic games is a passport to great riches. But how do you handle that responsibility, how do you handle the extra pressure, and what of the future?
Welcome back to Talk Asia.
SG: I read when you were going to train in France, and of course you compete a lot overseas as well. Is that something you enjoy, something you would like to do in the future -- live somewhere else outside of China?
LX: I'm not training in France. I was invited there as a special guest when France was bidding to host the 2012 Olympic Games. But I've never trained overseas. I only train in China, and with my own trainers. Of course, living overseas sounds nice, but I prefer being in China. This is the country that I grew up in, and my family is here. I'm also famlillar with the environment and have a lot of friends. If you move to another country, there are a lot of inconveniences and difficulties, because you have to start building your life from scratch.
SG: What about the future for you? I read that someone in Hong Kong was talking about offering you a film contract. Is that something that you would like to do in the future?
LX: I think that's a rumour; something made up by the media. I'm just an athlete not an actor; I know nothing about acting. I feel that it's better to stick to what I do best and concentrate on my own athletic career. I think if a person can be very good at one thing in life that is already enough. There is no need to get involved and dabble in too many other things.
SG: It's also said that you enjoy singing karaoke -- you're quite good at it. Would you like to sing, perhaps make a record at some time?
LX: I just sing karaoke with family and friends, when I want to relax. But it's only for entertainment! My singing is only at the amateur level. I'm definitely not good enough to sing in public. It's not what I'm good at. What I'm good at is track!
SG: I also heard that you had been offered the chance to study for a doctorate in China. Will we see Dr. Liu Xiang?
LX: I was a university student when I came back from the last Olympic Games, and my university allowed me to continue for my masters and doctoral degree. But you know, it is never easy to obtain a doctoral degree. You have to make the effort to study and work hard for it. If you don't study, you won't be qualified to get the degree, even if they give you the certificate.
SG: After 2008, are you likely to continue to run or will you stop?
LX: Yes I will definitely continue running. Because I will only be 26 years old in 2008. That's the best age in an athlete's career! So yes, I think I will stay with athletics for a few more years...maybe until I'm about 30 or so. If I'm lucky and my health permits, I could maybe even last longer. I'm very attached to track. This has been my life; it'll be very hard to leave it.
SG: So Beijing 2008 -- are you going to win gold there?
LX: I've never really thought about that at all. Of course, winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games is the goal of many athletes. But for me, there are a lot of other competitions that I would also like to win gold at -- such as the World Indoor Games, the World Outdoor Games, and the World Cup of Track and Field. Of course, the Olympic Games is the most important and the most influential, and being able to get a medal there is every athlete's dream. But I think it's not always about the result. What is more important, I think, is the effort you put in.
SG: Finally, do you think that you will ever top that feeling of winning that gold medal? Do you think anything in your life will ever compare to that in the future?
LX: I'm sure that there must be something better out there, but life is unpredictable. And I don't know what will happen to me after I retire, so as long as I have dreams I will continue to try to realize them.
SG: So Liu Xiang with his eyes firmly on gold in 2008, and an entire nation willing him on. Thanks for watching Talk Asia, be sure to watch again next week -- only on CNN.
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