China’s Liu Xiang reacts after winning the 110m hurdles event at the 2012 Samsung Diamond League competition in Shanghai, May 19, 2012. (REUTERS/Aly Song)

By Nick Mulvenney

SHANGHAI, May 19 (Reuters) – China’s Liu Xiang lit up a rain-soaked Shanghai Diamond League meeting with the quickest 110 metres hurdles time of the year on Saturday, sprinting to victory in 12.97 seconds to the delight of his home town crowd.

If the former world champion was trying to lower expectations about his chances of regaining the Olympic title he relinquished through injury in Beijing, he went about it in the wrong way in front of more than 40,000 screaming compatriots.

A blistering start put him well clear by the halfway mark and he raced across the line half a metre ahead of American David Oliver (13.13) before ripping off his shirt in delight at the first sub-13 second time of the year.

“I am really happy. I executed well, I ran my own race and wasn’t thinking about the others. I just did what I had to do and I won,” the 28-year-old told reporters.

“The crowd came out despite the wind and rain and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. I had to put on a fantastic performance for them.”

Former world record holder Asafa Powell won the men’s 100m easing up but he failed to add to his record tally of sub-10 second times when he crossed the line in 10.02 ahead of American Michael Rodgers (10.08).

“I did technically well so I’m happy,” the Jamaican said. “I felt good, it went well but it was raining so I didn’t push too hard.”

His compatriot Veronica Campbell-Brown was not able to ease up in her first 200 metres run of the year as she did battle with American Carmelita Jeter in a showdown of the world sprint champions.

Jeter came at the Jamaican three times down the home straight but Campbell-Brown, who will be going for a third straight gold in the event in London, had enough in the tank to see her home in 22.50 seconds.

“The more I win the more confident I become,” she said. “This was my first 200 metres of the year and I have a lot of work to do but I know from how I felt in this one that each race will get better so I’m just praying for good health.”

World indoor champion Genzebe Dibaba did not hold back in the women’s 1500 metres either and sprinted home in three minutes 57.77 seconds, by far the fastest time of the year and the quickest ever run by an Ethiopian woman.

“I am very, very happy,” said Dibaba, the 21-year-old sister of Olympic 5,000 and 10,000m champion Tirunesh. “I felt strong and I had a good feeling that I would win.”

Her compatriot Kenenisa Bekele, whose 5,000-10,000 metres double was one of the highlights of the Beijing Olympics, managed just fifth place in his first 5,000 of the season behind compatriot Hagos Gebrhwet, who won in 13.11.00.

Olympic pole vault champion Steve Hooker’s revival proved short-lived as just a week after he nailed the London qualifying height in Perth with a jump of 5.72m, he failed to get into the air in three attempts at 5.30m.

Heavy rain made a lottery of some of the field events.

Olympic men’s javelin champion Andreas Thorkildsen managed three throws before calling it quits and Czech Vitezslav Vesely won the event with a throw of 85.40m.

Former world champion Phillips Idowu made a good start to a season he hopes will climax with Olympic gold medal on home soil with victory in the triple jump with a leap of 17.24 metres.

“I am in great shape,” said the Briton. “My timing was slightly off and my technique was not perfect, but this was the first one of the year and I feel great.”