Chinese world record holders in athletics?Only two of them so far. Liu Xiang, a retired 110 m hurdles runner who enjoys the status of a rock star and Liu Hong, a 20 km race walker. Liu mostly stays out of the spotlight but she is the biggest Chinese gold contender in Beijing 2015 IAAFWorld Championships. 

In Moscow 2013 Liu took bronze behind Russians AnisaKirdyapkinaand winner Elena Lashmanova, and she is the only one of the three medallists present in Beijing. Lashmanova is serving a two-year ban, whileKirdyapkina is one of the athletes coached by Victor Chegin, a coach currently under investigation over doping matters, and wasn’t allowed to compete by the Russian federation.

Liu confirmed her great shape in June by winning the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in La Coruna in superb fashion, improving her personal best by over a minute, and breaking the world record by 24 seconds as she finished in 1hr:24min.38sec.

“I woke up with a smile on my face. I had to pinch myself to make sure it’s not a dream. I started to believe that only when I turned on the TV and saw in on the news”, Liu was reported saying.

Liu was born in 1987 in a village in a rural area of Jiangxi Province. Her brother got her interested in race walking when she was still in primary school. She was, by all reports, always a tough girl who was not only very talented but also determined. Before her first competition, her teacher told her to show up at the school gate in the morning without giving a specific time. Liu was there at 4 am.

“Cry in training and you will laugh in the competition”, became Liu’s motto. She was chosen to train with the city team in Shenzen, where she also attended high school, and by 2005 she had made the national team.

When she finished fourth place on home soil in the Beijing 2008 Olympics she considered it a very good start to her international career. But when, aged 25, she missed out on a medal by one place again at the London 2012 Games, she found it hard to take.

The World Championship experiences were less cruel. She took bronze in Berlin in 2009, and silver in Daegu two years later.

“I have two bronze and one silver medal of the IAAF Championships, now I’m ready to win gold in Beijing”, said Liu who has an estimated 50,000kilometres in her legs after a 12-year-long career. The next 20 km can lead her straight to glory.

Race walking is a lonely sport, especially in China. Between 2006 and 2010 Liu was the only Chinese woman competing on the global level. “But now it’s getting better,” Liu said. “We’re starting to form a team. They are mostly girls born in the 1990s with QieyangShijie and XiuzhiLu. I’m the only one from the 80s!”

Qiang and Lu will also fancy their chances in Beijing as they have both beaten Liu before. Qiang took bronze in London 2012and Lu finished higher than Liu at the Chinese Race Walk Grand Prix in March, where she set a then Asia record.

Together with Italy’s Eleonora Giorgi and Elisa Rigaud, Ukraine’sLyudmylaOlyanovska, and Czech Republic’sAnezkaDrahtova they will be the ones to watch during tomorrow’s walk that starts at 8.30 am.