China greeted its favored son with cheers as hurdler Liu Xiang returned to Beijing from a world record run in Switzerland.
"Congratulation! 12.88! Best wishes and happy 23rd birthday to you! Waiting for you (to shine again) in 2008!" read a six-meter-long banner in the Beijing Airport.
July 13 is Liu Xiang's birthday and exactly five years ago, Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games, in which China expects the 2004 Olympic champion to deliver another gold medal.
Liu broke the 110 meters hurdles world record at the Athletissima Grand Prix meeting in Switzerland on Tuesday, clocking 12.88 seconds.
The previous record of 12.91 was set by Britain's Colin Jackson in August 1993. Liu had equaled that time at the 2004 Olympics when he became China's first-ever sprint Olympic gold medalist.
Chinese athletics veterans have heaped praises on Liu with former world women's high jump record holder Zheng Fengrong and Asian triple jump mark holder Zou Zhenxian hailing the hurdler "a genius" and "pride of China".
Internet chatrooms are filled with comments on the world record run, with a few netizens calling Liu's arrival in Beijing as "Superman Returns".
American movie "Superman Returns" premiered in Beijing on Wednesday.
A Chinese coach, however, has asked fans and media not to disturb Liu Xiang's training for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Liu, who has complained the media frenzy in China that followed his Athens victory left him feeling penned in and naked, will have to face a new round of heat wave.
Yu Weili, deputy head coach of the Chinese athletics team, told Xinhua that a new round of frenzy is inevitable.
"Because of distractions, Liu rarely have good results in domestic competitions," Yu said. "There will be social activities that Liu can't refuse to attend. We hope there will be as less distractions as possible.
"The 2008 Olympics is his top priority."
In races held in China, Liu is usually hounded by adoring fans and a hungry media pack.
"Before I won the Olympic gold medal only a few journalists followed me around, now I feel like I have been stripped naked and surrounded," he complained last year.
"When I'm in China I also have a lot of commercial activities, which I don't really like, but I try not to let it influence the race," Liu said."I like meetings outside of China. International meetings are very open and comfortable."