Liu Hong, world champion and Olympic gold medalist race walker of China, finished the women's 20-kilometer competition in 1:27:35 at the first stop of the Chinese national race walk grand prix in Huangshan, east China's Anhui Province, on Sunday.
Though that record is only the third-best in the event, it is still good enough for Liu to qualify for the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in August. She is very likely to join Team China for the competitions.
"Perhaps people see me as a spur for young athletes when I'm on the track," Liu said in an interview with Xinhua News Agency after the race on Sunday. "When they saw me behind, they had to move forward, right? Or I would catch up."
Many of today's Chinese track-and-field athletes are 10 or more years younger than Liu. They all saw her as their hero. He Xianghong, who won the men's 35-kilometer race walk gold on Saturday, participated in last year's World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, with Liu.
"That was my first time to compete in the tournament. I was fifth (in the men's 35-km race walk) in the event. I had been training together with Liu and I wouldn't have achieved it without her," He told Xinhua. "I watched Liu's performance in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. That's the first time I knew race walk as an event. I was only 10 back then, but my love for race walk began to grow."
Despite all her success, Liu went through more difficulties than many know. For example, the year before she joined the national team, China achieved nothing in the race walk events at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004.
"The team was out of veterans at that time and we had to explore all by ourselves. No one could guide us with their experience," Liu said.
Three years later, Liu finished fourth in the women's 20-km event in the Olympics in Beijing. In 2012, Qieyang Shijie pocketed the bronze medal of the event and will receive the gold this year, following the disqualification of Elena Lashmanova's 1st place finish. In 2015, Liu set the world record of 1:24:38 for the women's 20-km race walk and, one year later, won the gold for the event at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
"Back then, Chinese race walkers were good, but lacked confidence. The more international competitions we participated in, the better knowledge we had of our strength. Now we are among the world's top two in the women's 20-km event," Liu told Xinhua.