By Sportswriters Lin Hao, Zhang Yueshan and Zhou Chang
TOKYO, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- "The semifinal will be my final," said Chinese sprinter Su Bingtian after the men's 100m qualification at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
A day later at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, Su delivered on his promise.
Dashing across the track like a bolt of red lightning, the 31-year-old burned himself out by clocking a personal best of 9.83 seconds - the fastest among all semifinalists and a new Asian record - to become the first Chinese to qualify for the men's 100m finals on Sunday, the highest echelon of athletics.
He let out a thunderous shout after crossing the finishing line.
"I was in my best form today. Maybe I couldn't achieve a 9.83 sprint anymore. Today will be the best memory of my life," he said.
"When I saw the start list yesterday, I knew I needed to give everything I have," Su said of his opponents in the semifinal, including Italian sprinter Lamont Marcell Jacobs who clinched the gold medal in the final.
"But for me, it's all about overcoming myself. When I saw the result of 9.83 seconds, I couldn't believe it," he recalled.
"I felt very compatible with the starting block and the track before the semifinal, and I realized my chance had come, I just did my best."
In the final two hours later, Su crossed the finishing line sixth in 9.98 seconds. His semifinal performance would have proved good enough for a silver medal -- U.S. sprinter Fred Kerley clinched the silver in 9.84s, with bronze going to Andre de Grasse of Canada in 9.89s.
However, Su had no regrets.
"After the semifinals, my strength had dropped significantly, so I told my team that I had done all I could and I just wanted to try my best in the final," said Su.
"I'm still not good enough compared to the European and American athletes. Maybe I could compete with them in a single race, but not two sprints with a short interval like this."
But Su set a "small" target to finish the final race within 10 seconds regardless of the ranking.
"If I made it, it would mean I could run two consecutive races both within 10 seconds, that's big progress for myself," Su said of his plan on the final.
Being the best Chinese sprinter for a decade, Su left his mark on the country's athletics records by becoming the first to run 100m under 10 seconds in 2015.
But his career stalled in the following years. He even planned to retire four years ago to spend more time with his family as he also took up a teaching position at Jinan University in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, his hometown.
But the call of his heart brought Su back on track to have a last go at Tokyo 2020.
His perseverance paid off. He made further improvements since then. In 2018, Su lowered his personal best and tied Asian records twice at 9.91 seconds, with improvement in training and his techniques.
But injuries came in his way to Tokyo as he failed to qualify for the men's 100 final at the World Championships in Doha 2019. But he rebounded with 9.98s at the combined 2021 Chinese National Athletics Championships and Tokyo Olympic trials in June.
"The postponement of the Olympic Games might have turned out to be a good thing for me," he said.
Expressing appreciation to the constant encouragement he received from fellow Olympian Liu Xiang, who made history to win the 110m hurdles at the 2004 Athens Games, Su said he hoped his achievement could inspire future Chinese athletes.
"Liu Xiang was in indeed an inspiration for Chinese athletics, we wouldn't even think of trying to make it to an Olympic final or win Olympic medals if not for him," said Su.
"I hope my performance today could serve as an inspiration for younger athletes in their sporting careers. When I was their age, my speed was no match for them. With the techniques and ideas we have, they could achieve much more than I do."
After the performance of his career on Sunday, Su is not done yet for the Tokyo Olympics. He will return to the Olympic Stadium with his teammate for the 4x100 relay.
"I hope we could live up to our expectations in the 4x100 relay to show off the speed of China," he said.