Liu dominates hurdles at Classic

Associated Press  |  Last updated June 03, 2012
Liu Xiang lunged across the finish line and quickly looked up to his left at the giant scoreboard. Then, he impatiently waited. A split second later -- only it felt like an eternity -- the board flashed Liu's time in big, white characters: 12.87 seconds. That sent the 110-meter hurdler from China straight into euphoria as he thrust his fist into the air before dancing and skipping around the track with unbridled exuberance. Sure, there was the excitement from holding off a star-studded field to get the win at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday. But there also was that glittering time on the scoreboard. Maybe at first he thought he had tied the world record, but it turned out to be wind-aided by a slight margin. So the world mark set by Cuba's Dayron Robles remains safe for now. Long after the race was over -- and after Liu did a celebratory lap around the track to high-five anyone with an extended hand -- he was asked if he ever thought about breaking world records. "No. I never think about that," Liu said through a translator. "I think I can run that fast. I'm ready for that." Liu once held the world mark when he finished in 12.88 seconds during a race in July 2006. Nearly two years later -- just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- Robles took the record. And there it has stood. Robles was actually scheduled to be in the field, but had trouble securing his visa and pulled out of the competition at the last hour. There were still plenty of other rivals to push Liu, who held off Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson in what was billed as one of the marquee events at Pre. This race certainly lived up to the billing, with Liu getting off to a good start in the impressive victory. "I just treated it as a regular race," Liu said. His reaction to the win proved it was anything but just another race, especially this close to the London Olympics. And had the wind not been gusting, this very well could've been a performance to remember. These days, nothing Liu accomplishes on the track comes as a shock to Richardson. "He's just amazing," Richardson said. "It almost goes without saying." Allyson Felix was hard to miss in her aerodynamic black bodysuit with neon yellow patches on each leg. She was impossible to catch, too. In a 200-meter race that was supposed to tight, possibly even down to the wire, Felix breezed away from the field, easily beating training partner Jeneba Tarmoh and crushing her main rival Carmelita Jeter. Felix's time of 22.23 seconds was hardly spectacular, but her performance was, especially with the Summer Games right around the corner. She showed that she's definitely rounding into form. "I feel like I'm in a good place right now," Felix said. "I tried to focus and power in. But they told me it didn't look like I pushed very hard at the end." Actually, she didn't appear to have to work very hard at all. Felix risked a quick glance back after rounding the bend, just a tiny peek to size up who was about to make a move. No one was even close. "I expected it maybe to be a little tighter at the end," Felix said, smiling. While Felix won with a big burst out of the starting blocks, the other big race of the day -- the men's 400 -- ended with a bang. As in, a second bang to stop the race for a false start. Teenager Kirani James of Grenada left the blocks a split second too early and was disqualified. But he protested and was allowed to run while the matter was sorted out. The 19-year-old James got off to a solid start and had a slight lead on the homestretch. But reigning Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt used a strong kick to pass James with a few meters remaining. It was the opposite of what transpired at the world championships last summer in South Korea. In that race, Merritt couldn't hold off the hard-charging James. But Merritt was hardly in top form back then. He was rusty in his first major meet after serving a 21-month suspension for using a banned substance that his lawyer said was the result of a male-enhancement product. Since that loss to James in South Korea, Merritt has been steadily gaining ground. "I feel like I'm in great shape, the training has been going well," Merritt said. "It was just a matter of me not beating myself." As for the false start, James said he thought the runners may have been held in the blocks a little too long. "It happens," James said. "I'd rather it happen here than at the big one." For Oscar Pistorius, his mission is to simply qualify for the Summer Games, and he's quickly running out of time. The double-amputee sprinter known as the "Blade Runner" finished the 400 in a disappointing time of 46.86 seconds. Pistorius needs to run in 45.30 or better to give the South African his second Olympic time in the qualifying window. He has another chance next weekend in New York at the Adidas Grand Prix. "I have to refocus after this and get some fuel in the tank for the next race," he said. As for what happens if he doesn't meet the requirements, Pistorius just shrugged. "I guess then I won't go," he said. "They haven't given us that side of the coin." In other notable races: -- Mo Farah of Britain beat a talented field in the 5,000, including training partner Galen Rupp, who wound up third. -- Sanya Richards-Ross edged world champion Amantle Montsho in the 400. -- Wallace Spearmon captured the 200 in convincing fashion. -- Justin Gatlin held off Jamaican Nickel Ashmeade in the 100. "Everything is on the right track," Gatlin said. "Right now, it's all about putting together a great, sound race."
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