China’s elite long jumpers keeping competitive online amid athletics’ hiatus

The postponement of the Tokyo Games until 2021 has brought unprecedented challenges for Olympic hopefuls all over world.

Track and field athletes are faced with a particularly daunting year ahead-having to rip up their original training schedules but yet still unable to compete against international rivals due to athletics’ ongoing global suspension because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To maintain some degree of competitive edge, China’s elite long jumpers participated in an online test event last week.

Hosted by the national athletics team, the event featured men’s and women’s long jump and women’s triple jump competitions.

Beijing Sport University was used as the main location of the competition, with elite long jumpers from several other provinces, including Sichuan, Shandong, Liaoning and Guangdong, also joining the field via a live-stream video feed.

China’s national track and field team has hosted over a dozen such online test events this year for its various squads. Considering the difficulties athletes are dealing with in these uncertain times, the results have been impressive, with the long jumpers also delivering some encouraging performances.

Huang Changzhou, a bronze medalist at the 2016 World Indoor Championships, recorded a season-best leap of 8.03 meters to win the men’s long jump. Asian Games runner-up Zhang Yaoguang, of Liaoning province, was second (8.01m), with Zhang Jingqiang third (7.89m).

“This is a competition as well as more training on our journey to the Tokyo Olympics,” Zhang Jingqiang told China Sports Daily.

“We’ve stayed in the training camp behind closed doors for a very long time. So the online competition tested the results of our training for this period of time.

“My performance was within my expectation. As I haven’t competed for a long time, my body is still not in peak condition.

“I was a little worried before the test event started, as I haven’t competed for over half of a year since January.”

Zhong Jiawei, who ranked third (6.33m) in the women’s long jump, also admitted to some nerves and feeling rusty.

“My last official competition took place last August, so until the test event I had not participated in any meets,” said Zhong.

“This was my first competition this year. I was excited and nervous. My coach’s task for me was to reach 6.30m and I did it.”

Yang Zhongmin, an official of the Chinese Athletics Association, believes these events are an effective way of making up for the inevitable drop in intensity that has come with track and field’s global shutdown.

“The national team has remained in a closed-door training camp for too long, and there have been no events for them to compete in. So the competition was a good test for them,” said Yang.

“The online competition is a new type of event for us. The results have been very good. Our staff organized an online live-stream team to work with their colleagues in different provinces to host this event… Over 13,000 people watched the event online.”

Like many athletes, Zhong is endeavoring to embrace the Olympic delay as best she can. She even stole a march on the March 24 announcement that the Tokyo Games were being postponed by refreshing her training schedule back in February.

“When we first heard that the Olympics might be postponed, the coach and I began to make adjustments, including trying new techniques,” Zhong explained.

“I started to alter the way I leap… I’ve also increased my upper-body strength during this time. Now I’m focusing on my running and I’ve made some progress.”

The extended preparation time for Tokyo is especially significant for athletes who are on the comeback trail from injury, including men’s long jumper Shi Yuhao.

The 2018 Asian indoor champion saw his promising early career cruelly interrupted by a serious left ankle injury, sustained at the 2018 Shanghai Diamond League event.

After taking six months to recover from surgery, Shi missed the entire 2019 season but had been preparing for a return to competition this year – until the coronavirus pandemic struck.

“For me, the postponement of the Olympics is good news as I have more time to adjust,” said Shi. “In general, I have to practice switching to take off on my right leg.

“My plan was to participate in plenty of events to get up to pace. But the tournaments were all canceled or postponed, so it’s actually been quite boring to just keep training for all this time.”

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