Chinese sprinter Xie Zhenye made history on Sunday finishing first in IAAF Diamond League in London. In addition to claiming the championship title, Xie further broke the old Asian record in the 200 meter sprinting event by setting a personal best result of 19.88 seconds, 0.09 seconds faster than the existing record set by Qatari runner Femi Ogunode in 2015. Xie became the first Asian sprinter to ever finish a 200-meter race within 20 seconds and the first Chinese sprinter to qualify for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics track finals.
Earlier in 2018, Xie completed a 100-meter race with 9.97 seconds in France, joining his teammate Su Bingtian in the 10-second club. The recent 20-second breakthrough in the 200-meter race became another significant achievement completed by Xie within two-years.
Prior to the recent major breakthroughs, Xie became an Asian champion in the 2014 Incheon Asian, winning a gold medal in the 4×100m relay event, Xie was also a silver medalist in the same discipline in the 2015 Track and Field World Championships in Beijing.
The 25-year-old sprinter was born in Zhejiang, China. Having graduated with a bachelor degree from Zhejiang University majoring in physical education, Xie is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the same institution. The athlete made his debut in international competitions in 2010 and has represented China in the Olympics twice in 2012 and 2016.
With his recent achievements, Xie is gaining popularity among track and field fans in China, some regarded him as the emerging national role model in the field, putting him alongside his teammates the 25-year-old Su Bingtian and Liu Xiang, who won the Men’s 110-meter hurdle gold medal in Athens in the 2004 Olympic Games.
While China is one of the most competitive countries in the Olympics and continental sports games, the country’s Olympic track and field team had only won nine out of the 141 Medals in the 2012 London Olympics and six out of 141 in Rio 2016. Compared to the country’s dominance in other sports, such as badminton and table tennis demo this is a poor result that demonstrates that the Chinese track and field team has a long way to go to be able to compete with the world’s best athletes in the Olympics.
Recent breakthroughs in short-distance sprinting show that Chinese athletes have significantly improved their performance, however, the results are still not competitive enough for winning Olympic medals. The world record for the Men’s 100-meter race was set by Jamacian sprinting legend Usain Bolt in 2009. Standing at 9.58 seconds, not one sprinter has been able to beat the record in 10 years. As for the 200-meter race, Usain Bolt holds another 10-year-long world record there, with 19.19 seconds, still way faster than Xie’s result.
The lack of major sports achievements has put East Asians in a bad light and created a lot of biases. Some assert that Asian runners are not athletic enough to survive in competitive professional sports. NBA player Jeremy Lin was one of the notable victims of these biases: despite having similar numbers and athletic abilities as John Wall, Lin did not get his fair chance of getting drafted in the 2010 NBA drafting season. Clearly, the Linsanity series of 2012 proved those who looked down on Jeremy wrong, but these sort of prejudice still have impact on many Asian kids who grow up without a sports role model in football, hockey and basketball.
The lack of representation in professional sports, especially the ones requiring high athletic skills, are undermining the rate of success for young Asian talent in these games. It might be easy for them to defeat their sports rivalls, but not the long-time racial biases and prejudice.
The racial biases in competitive sports need to be addressed with the same amount of attention as those relating to gender, physical appearance or any other. It requires relentless efforts on part of parents to encourage young aspiring athletes to go further and be more competitive, and the general public should be another force propelling them forward, not slowing them down.