Beijing Olympics: Home favourite Liu Ziang top of international talent to watch out for
The first Chinese man to win an Olympic track gold medal after his 110m hurdles success in Athens, Liu is expected to “do a Cathy Freeman” and triumph on home soil.
Last Updated: 8:22PM BST 02 Aug 2008
1. Liu Xiang (China)
If shouldering the expectations of the world’s most populous nation were not enough, Liu, the reigning world champion, also has some serious competition in the shape of Cuban Dayron Robles, who shaved 0.01 sec off his world record when he ran 12.87 in June.
2. Katie Hoff (United States)
The 19-year-old matched Michael Phelps’ achievement in winning five individual events at the American Olympic swimming trials, and broke the 400m individual medley world record for good measure. Four years ago Hoff was the youngest member of the American Olympic team in Athens, but she failed to live up to the hype and missed out on a medal. A year later, her career took off when she won three gold medals at the World Championships and she repeated the feat in Melbourne last year, setting her first world record in the 400m individual medley.
3. Usain Bolt (Jamaica)
The man known as 'Lightning Bolt’ stormed on to the 100m scene with a world record of 9.72 sec in New York in June. Until this season, the 21-year-old, 6ft 5in giant had considered himself a 200m specialist after setting a junior world record as a 17-year-old. With a 200m personal best of 19.67 this season, an Olympic sprint double could now be in his sights. The 100m final against countryman Asafa Powell, the previous world record-holder, and American’s double world champion, Tyson Gay, would be one of the highlights of the Games.
4. Laure Manaudou (France)
The French beauty who was feted for winning gold, silver and bronze in the pool at the Athens Olympics attracted attention of a different kind last year when nude pictures of her appeared on the internet. Her jilted boyfriend, Italian swimmer Luca Marin, denied accusations that he was to blame but the plot thickened when Marin then started dating Manaudou’s main rival in the pool, Federica Pellegrini, who promptly broke the Frenchwoman’s 400m freestyle world record. Manaudou still owns the 200m freestyle world record but, perhaps showing signs of being affected by the soap opera around her, she failed to qualify in the event at the French Olympic trials and instead will swim the 400m freestyle and the 100m and 200m backstroke in Beijing.
5. Abubaker Kaki (Sudan)
The 18-year-old middle-distance running sensation could become one of the youngest athletes in history to win an Olympic medal on the track after he stunned the world by winning the 800 metres at Oslo’s Bislett Games in June in 1min 42.69sec — the fastest time in the event for five years. Kaki, who trains in Khartoum, is already the youngest world indoor champion in history, winning the 800m in Valencia in March. A year earlier he won the 800m at the All-Africa Games. The teenager was originally hoping to become a goalkeeper but was spotted in a high school race in 2004. One year later he won 1500m bronze at the World Youth Championships.A far bigger prize now awaits him
6. Kathrin Boron (Germany)
Four years ago she wept on the podium as Sir Matthew Pinsent presented her with her fourth Olympic rowing gold medal. After a break from the sport, she is back in the German quadruple scull looking to equal the record of five rowing gold medals shared by Sir Steven Redgrave and Romania’s Elisabeta Lipa. The 37-year-old was recruited to the East German rowing programme at the age of 13 because of her height but all of her Olympic medals have come post-unification, beginning with the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
7. Yao Ming (China)
The 7ft 6in Houston Rockets centre looked like missing out on his home Olympics when he had to have screws inserted in his left foot in February to treat a stress fracture caused by the wear and tear of playing in the NBA. But five months of intensive rehabilitation have restored China’s best-loved sportsman to fitness. Beijing will be Yau’s third Olympic Games, though China have never fared better than eighth place. His country’s opening match against the USA on Aug 10 is predicted to break Olympic TV viewing records.
8. Natalie Du Toit (South Africa)
The women’s 10km open-water swimming competition is certain to be an emotional experience for the 24-year-old, who wept openly when she qualified at the World Championships in Seville in May. After losing her left leg below the knee in a motorcycle accident seven years ago, Du Toit will make history by becoming the first female amputee to compete at the able-bodied Olympics. A few weeks later she will return to Beijing for the Paralympics. A rising swimming star before her accident, Du Toit is not allowed to use a prosthetic, relying on her huge upper-body strength to power through the water.
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