SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China bade a fond farewell to its greatest athlete on Sunday as Liu Xiang, the nation’s peerless sprint hurdler, took a bow in front of 40,000 fans in his home city of Shanghai after a spectacular Diamond League meeting.
On a night when Ethiopian Almaz Ayana recorded the third fastest 5,000 meters in history, nothing could upstage the ceremony after the event in the Shanghai Stadium to honor the former Olympic 110m hurdles champion Liu, who retired last month.
After making an emotional speech to the crowd, Liu was joined by his fellow hurdlers, led by world champion David Oliver and Olympic champion Aries Merritt, in a gentle lap of honor which reduced some fans to tears.
Earlier, the crowd had been treated to the sight of six world bests for the year, with pride of place going to Ayana, the 23-year-old who missed the world record of her Ethiopian compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba by just over three seconds as she clocked 14 minutes 14.32.
Cranking up the speed over the last two kilometers with a brilliant solo effort on a windy evening, Ayana reckoned she did not even know what the record was as she came so close to Dibaba’s mark of 14:11.15.
“I was surprised when I heard it was close,” she told reporters before admitting the record will now be in her sights at the world championships in Beijing.
Ayana’s performance was the highlight of an evening which on which Mutaz Essa Barshim (2.38m in the high jump), Silas Kiplagat (3min 35.29sec for 1500m), Jairus Kipchoge Birech (8min 05.36sec in the steeplechase), home favorite Gong Lijiao (20.35m in the shot) and Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou (4.73m in the pole vault) also set world leading marks.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was surprisingly well beaten in her opening 100 meters of the year as Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor crushed a high-quality field.
Jamaica’s double Olympic champion looked sluggish as she trailed home fifth in 11.25 seconds while up ahead, Nigeria’s Okagbare-Ighoteguonor roared to victory in 10.98.
Okagbare-Ighoteguonor’s huge stride over the second 50 meters allowed her to comfortably hold off a late challenge from American Tori Bowie, last year’s world number one, who clocked 11.07sec.
Olympic champion Kirani James outclassed his 400m opponents, winning easily in 44.66sec with world champion LaShawn Merritt third in 45.58.
Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Douglas Beattie and Ed Osmond