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Birmingham, United Kingdom – China's Liu Xiang will face Dayron Robles for the first time since their controversial clash at last year's world championships when they meet in the 60 metres hurdles here on Saturday.
The duo's race, ahead of their expected showdown in the high hurdles final at the London Olympics, promises to be the highlight of the Birmingham Grand Prix at the National Indoor Arena this weekend.
Reigning Olympic 110 metres hurdles champion Robles was first across the line in Daegu in August but was subsequently disqualified for impeding Liu, who eventually took the silver medal.
Liu, the 2004 110m Olympic gold medallist in Athens, insisted he bore Robles no ill will as a result of their clash in South Korea.
“I don't think he did anything wrong in Daegu,” Liu told the China Daily.
“Those kind of things always happen in a competitive race. It's normal.
“We are both professionals,” the 28-year-old added. “And most importantly, we are friends. We have competed against each other so many times.”
Liu, world champion outdoors over the 110m hurdles in 2007 and indoors over 60m in 2008, said he had been training particularly hard.
“This new year I didn't go back home at the Chinese new year on January 23, which was the first time for me,” he said. “I stayed with my team-mates, training hard, preparing for the Olympics.
“I will compete in some indoor meets in February before the world indoor in Turkey, where I hope I could gain beautiful memories since this will be one of the most important IAAF competitions before the London Olympics.”
Cuba's Robles, the reigning world record holder and world indoor champion after winning in Doha two years ago, was looking forward to testing himself against high-class opposition.
“Birmingham is due to have a good field so it'll be good for me,” he said.
“This year is clearly important for me. I'm doing everything I can both in and out of competition to make sure that I’m competing at my best.
“I'm planning to run at the world indoor championships, and of course I want to hold on to the Olympic title. We'll need to see what the other guys bring to the race,” the 25-year-old added.
Vivian Cheruiyot, the Kenyan world 5,000m and 10,000m champion, pulled out on Thursday with flu.
Cheruiyot, one of the favourites for gold in London, had been due to run in the 3,000m at the National Indoor Arena.
“I need to take a few days off to recover so I can resume training as soon as possible in this important year,” Cheruiyot explained.
There will be plenty of British Olympic hopefuls on show for the home crowd to cheer, including men's world 5,000m champion Mo Farah and Hannah England, who won silver in the women's 1500m in Daegu.
British multi-eventer Jessica Ennis is set to take part in both the 60m hurdles and long jump events ahead of her bid for back-to-back world indoor crowns in Istanbul next month and her gold medal assault on the Olympic Games this summer.
Retaining her world pentathlon title in Turkey would set the 26-year-old up nicely in her bid for Olympic heptathlon gold in London, where she will look to turn the table on Tatyana Chernova, the Russian who took the world outdoor title from her in Daegu.
“There are some really good girls competing in the heptathlon at the moment and any one of them could step up their game at any time,” said Ennis.
“But I'm happy with the way I'm training.” – Sapa-AFP