In the 90’s movie, Sidekicks, the late Jonathan Brandis’ nerdy, asthmatic character worshiped Chuck Norris. In one particular scene where Brandis’ character was having difficulty climbing up a rope in gym class, the protagonist imagined his hero, Norris, instructing him every step of the way.

Some guys idolize Kobe Bryant or Lionel Messi. I look up to Liu Xiang.

I can somehow relate with the guy from Sidekicks. In the countless hours I’ve spent honing my hurdling technique, the name Liu Xiang was a constant fixture. Back in 2005, when I did hurdle drills at length, I viewed all the clips of Liu Xiang’s races and training just to be able to correct the deficiencies in my form. I patterned my technique after Liu Xiang’s.

In my wildest daydreams, I pictured myself racing against my idol – and winning! There was a time when my training buddy, three-time UAAP sprint hurdles Champion Mike Mendoza, and I watched most of Liu’s ads in Youtube. The rest of the Fab Four hurdlers (Lech & Jots) also sang along with Liu Xiang’s music video. In a strange, Sidekicks-like sense, Liu Xiang was like an actual, albeit imaginary teammate.

The first time I saw my hero compete was way back in 2002. My high school coach told me to closely watch the Chinese hurdler. So I did. Boy, did he run away from the competition, demolishing Saturo Tanigawa, the 2nd placer. I even recorded Liu’s first major international win on tape.

Fast forward two years later to the 2004 Athens Olympics.  I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning just to watch the live telecast of the 110m high hurdles from a Japanese sports channel. My heart was beating triple time as I waited for the started gun. The false start brought tense moments. Once the race started, it was over before you knew it even began. Such is the fast, intense action of the sprints.

Coming into the final barriers, it was apparent that Liu Xiang was on the verge of writing history. Liu outclassed everyone in the field, stopping the clock at 12.91s – breaking Allen Johnson’s Olympic record and tying Colin Jackson’s world record. Liu Xiang became the first Asian man to win a sprinting gold at the Olympics.

I was ecstatic. It was victory not just for the Chinese, but for all Asians as well – Filipinos included. Not wanting to wake up my sleeping siblings, I muffled my screams as I jumped up and down the living room, punching the air.

During the 2005 Captain’s Night, my teammates’ dad (who worked for Coke China) gave a signed copy of Liu Xiang’s autobiography. As the newly minted co-captain of a resurgent Ateneo Track & Field squad with my first two UAAP medals in tow, I was already in cloud nine. But when I saw Liu Xiang’s handwritten message, I became euphoric.

Note: I brought the signed book to most of my races and all of my big meets. During Unigames 2009, I even had a friend bring the book all the way to Bacolod as a moral boost for the other hurdlers (I chose to stay in Manila to train).

Throughout the last 8 years or so, I’ve seen all of Liu’s major races and most of the minor ones, thanks to the advent of broadband internet. I rejoiced when he broke the world record in 2006 and became World Champion in 2007. When Liu hobbled out of the Bird’s Nest in 2008, I mourned with the rest of the shocked Chinese people.

Since local coverage of the Olympics was practically non-existent, I had no other choice but to rely on live text updates from the web. I was dumbfounded the moment I saw “DNF” beside Liu’s name. I was in disbelief. Minutes later, cable news networks were beaming in live feed.

My eyes welled with tears. I was speechless.

A year after the Beijing Olympics tragedy, I stumbled upon Liu Xiang’s comeback race. Liu and long-time rival Terrence Trammell dove to the tape with identical times of 13.15s, with the latter getting the upper hand. Even though I had ceased track & field training, I still felt joyful at my hero’s seemingly successful recovery from injury. A closer look at his race would show that Liu’s form wasn’t as fluid as before. He seemed stiff as he cleared each barrier. Little did I know that in the months to come, Liu’s condition would deteriorate.

It saddens me to see my hero finishing behind guys he would have severely outclassed at his prime. I wish Liu Xiang the best as he recovers from injury and regains his top notch form.

Think London 2012!


11 responses to “Sidekicks

  1. Scientist Runner June 28, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    Like you, I can only wish him well…he is more than just an athlete…he embodies the aspirations and dreams of the Chinese and many Asian peoples…Let us hope he will be in tip-top shape soon!

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