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Monday, June 30, 2008
Updated: August 5, 4:29 PM ET

He runs more in a week than you've run in the last year.

Only 38 more days until opening ceremonies! Recently we went to Beijing Sports University to visit with marathoner Han Gang, who ran in Athens in 2004 and is one of four finalists competing for three spots on the Chinese team this summer (a decision is expected early next month). Modesty prevents him from talking about his chances—"50 percent, maybe," he says, "though that may be overestimating"—but after posting the second-best time earlier this year, we'll put our money on him. In our chat Han explained, among other things, why he's not worried about Beijing's air, athletic training in China and why he likes the Phoenix Suns. In his words (translated): On running: "I was discovered by a track coach after participating in a youth sports tournament in elementary school. In middle school I joined the team and have been running since. Professional for 15 years. [Among the 1,500-meter, 5,000-meter and marathon,] I most enjoy the marathon. It tests your mental strength every time. It's a challenge." On his training and recent reports of Chinese athletes getting pushed too hard: "I run about 200 km (124 miles) per week. I feel that in China, the training level is not too high—compared to, say, Japan or Korea, anyway. I prefer the non-Chinese way of training, however. Outside the country, in Europe or America, athletes typically use their own funds to hire coaches and set their own schedule. If you're spending your own money, it means you're more independent, and also your desire to compete is higher. It's not like in China, where the pressure comes from the top to force you to practice—you train if they tell you to train, rest if they tell you to rest. This system lags behind. If China's training evolves, I suspect the results will improve very quickly." On this summer's Olympics: "I haven't thought much about it. China has a lot of responsibility though. The pressure (the organizers) feel is much greater than ours. But come Olympics time, I believe Beijing will hold the most successful Games ever." On his hobbies: "I enjoy cooking. I only know one dish, but as long as I can eat that well, I'm good. Also, surfing the 'Net, watching TV. Mostly I watch sports because there's no time for much else. NBA, soccer. But not Chinese soccer, mind you. My favorite NBA team is the Suns because when they play it's smooth and lively. Also because of [Steve] Nash. Yao Ming I also like." On Beijing's air quality: "China's already started taking care of it. Come time, they'll do more. If you look at it now you may not be able to see any effect, but a lot of things—including cars, factories—are going to come to a halt. The odd/even license plates, etc., that'll have an effect. Beijing's air, it's not bad. Better than Neimong (where I'm from), for sure. if you want to see bad air, go there."


Torch relay update: Just passed: Wuzhong, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which has the largest number of Hui people, a Muslim ethnic group. Next up: the ancient city of Yinchuan, nicknamed the "Phoenix City" because, according to legend, a phoenix blessed the region with abundance and turned into a city wall to protect the people from enemy attacks, then nourished the land with its blood.