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China's Liu not fully fit but still confident
BEIJING (Reuters) - Liu Xiang admits he is not yet fully fit but is still confident of defending his Olympic 110 meters hurdles title at next month's Beijing Games.
The world champion, who celebrated his 25th birthday last Sunday, is China's best chance of a track gold medal in Beijing but has had his preparations for the August 8-24 Games disrupted by a hamstring injury.
"It's not so great," he said of his injury on CCTV on Thursday. "I hope I can get completely fit in the next two weeks."
Since being disqualified for a false start at the Prefontaine Classic in early June in his last scheduled outing before the Olympics, Liu has had to adjust to no longer being high hurdles world record holder.
Cuba's Dayron Robles confirmed his growing reputation by running 12.87 seconds in Ostrava on June 12, shaving a hundredth of a second off the mark Liu set in Lausanne in 2006.
"I feel like he is born to be a hurdler," Liu said of his 21-year-old rival. "He is terrific. But I still believe I am able to beat him. After all, he is younger than me."
Liu has proved in the past that he can perform to his best on the big occasion, not least when he matched Colin Jackson's then record to win a surprise gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
"I'm at a certain level," he said. "The key thing is how to bring it out and how well I am able to handle my chance in the race."
Liu said he would not be affected by the weight of expectation on him to retain his title in the Bird's Nest stadium on August 21.
"I feel normal," he said. "I am not feeling much pressure. I have experienced an Olympics already."
Coach Sun Haiping said they were concentrating on improving Liu's start, the weakest part of his race, and adopted a more cautious outlook than his charge.
"He has no problem with regular competitions but he's not good enough for the Olympics," he said.
"He is only gradually recovering from his injury as he trains.
"His rivals are improving so quickly, especially Robles," he added. "(But) no matter how strong his opponents are, he will only compete with himself."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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