Xie's sprint dreams won't be dashed

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File photo of Xie Zhenye.

Despite making history at the Tokyo Olympics, 2021 has not gone to plan for Xie Zhenye. The sprint star has been slowed down by a series of nagging injuries, but remains determined to show his best is yet to come.

"Injuries have been bothering me so it's been a pretty bumpy season. There's nothing serious, but for us sprinters who push our bodies to the limit, small injuries can still have a big impact," the 28-year-old told China Daily during a Weibo broadcast last week.

"Injuries are inevitable for all athletes. For us, the journey of pushing our limits is like walking along a cliff edge. We can easily be injured, so an important task for us is to learn how to manage injuries.

"This season is sort of like a downturn in my career. The constant injuries have taken a toll on my performances this year. But all athletes face ups and downs in their career."

Xie, the 200-meter Asian record holder, sped to another milestone over the distance at this summer's Tokyo Olympics where he became the first Chinese to make the 200m semifinals at the Games. He was also part of the Chinese 4x100m relay team that impressed with a fourth-place finish in the final.

A month later, however, Xie was obviously not in peak condition as he failed to defend his 100m and 200m titles at the National Games in Xi'an, bagging two silvers.

True to form, he is maintaining a philosophical outlook about those disappointments.

"Failure is also an inevitable part of our careers. I noticed recently that some fans are really disappointed in me. But we athletes feel deep disappointment ourselves. We only grow as athletes via a combination of success and failure," Xie said.

"No athlete can reach the peak of his career at the very beginning. Even Usain Bolt suffered failures in the early stages of his career. He grew step by step. Our journey to success always begins from failure. So an important lesson for us is how to cope with failure. Life goes on after a failure and more challenges await in the future.

"I always like to share my experiences of failure with the younger athletes. Many people like to share their success stories and set grand goals for others. But they don't tell you how hard it can be along the road to success."

Xie shot to prominence in 2019 when he became the first Chinese to dip under the 20-second mark in the 200m by clocking an Asian-record 19.88 at a Diamond League meet in London. Later that year in Doha, he became the first Chinese to reach the men's 200m final at the world championships.

In 2018, Xie blazed to victory in 9.97 sec at a meet in France, becoming just the third Asian to run a sub-10 100m. Despite his current injury woes, he believes he can continue to lower his personal bests.

"For each 0.01 second improvement we make on the track, we need to put in huge efforts in training," said Xie.

"In the 100-meter sprint, we aim for 46 to 48 steps. So we need to focus on each detail and try to execute each step perfectly. The improvement on each step leads to the improvement of the final result."

Su-per support

Xie's relationship with fellow star sprinter Su Bingtian has intrigued fans through the years, with the pair rivals on the track but firm friends off it.

Su dashed into the history books this summer in Tokyo by becoming the first Chinese to reach an Olympic 100m final, refreshing the Asian record to 9.83 sec in the process in his semifinal.

The 32-year-old maintained that fine form in Xi'an in September when he beat Xie to claim his first National Games 100m title in 9.95.

Asked about the competition with Xie, Su said of his national squad teammate: "I trust in Xie to have better results next year when he competes at the Asian Games in Hangzhou. We shouldn't just question an athlete when he's not at his best. Instead, we need to help and encourage him to regain his momentum."

Xie says he took solace in Su's words.

"I was very touched when I heard Su Bingtian say those words to the media. I almost felt I was about to cry. This year was tough for me. He knows what I have gone through as he has been in a similar situation before," Xie told China Daily.

"I just wanted to tell him at that moment that I will try my best to achieve better results to meet his expectations. I didn't say too much at the media conference. I think many people know the feeling of meeting someone who knows and understands all about you.

"Teaming up with a great sprinter like Su Bingtian has made me a better athlete. With his influence in the team, you automatically train harder and better. He's my friend and my teacher. We have a close relationship."

Xie, though, is expecting China's next generation of sprinters to overtake his and Su's feats, especially with the nation funding more comprehensive and scientific training methods.

"I think, for the younger generation of athletes who now look up to our Asian records, our achievements are encouraging for them. They now enjoy much better training and competition environments, with better support mechanisms in place," said Xie.

"I think it's a certainty that they will produce better and better results in the future. They should cherish all these opportunities. The best way to honor the older generation of athletes like us is to surpass us and set new records."

With China's elite athletes flourishing, Xie hopes that can have a knock-on effect for participation rates among the general public.

"Athletics is the most grassroots sport of all, in my opinion. It is a foundation sport and anyone can be involved in it. Track and field events are very easy to join, and people can practice most of them without complicated training or expensive gear," Xie added.

"So, with the country promoting the national fitness campaign, I think athletics events are a good choice for people-just look at how marathon running has been growing fast in China recently."

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