BEIJING • In Beijing and beyond, there is no doubt who the stars of the last few days of these world championships were for the host nation.
And it certainly was not Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix, Dafne Schippers or Mo Farah.
Staring out from the front of every newspaper and appearing endlessly on state broadcaster CCTV, the quartet of sprinters who won a silver medal on Saturday night behind Jamaica have become national sensations overnight.
In the process, they have sparked renewed hopes that they can do for Chinese athletics what venerated hurdler Liu Xiang failed to, thereby sparking a medal rush.
Liu, who won China's first track and field Olympic gold in Athens in 2004, was hugely hyped before the Beijing and London Olympics but, under huge pressure and suffering from injuries, failed to repeat the feat at either.
But after a feel-good world championships, at which the Bird's Nest was largely sold out for evening sessions, the country's sports administrators believe that they can build on their medal success now that they have more strength in depth.
In total China won nine medals, including seven silvers.
The fact they won just one gold - delivered by Liu Hong in the women's 20km race walking - left them 11th in the medal table but the depth of their success has raised hopes for Rio.
There was a giddy atmosphere among the home crowd when the 4x100m relay team were upgraded to silver following the United States' disqualification.
Su Bingtian, who also became the first Chinese sprinter to go under 10 seconds and reach a major final the previous weekend, was serenaded with a chorus of "happy birthday" as he completed a lap of honour with beaming team-mates Xie Zhenye, Zhang Peimeng and Mo Youxue.
"We made history," said Zhang, who ran the anchor leg as China clocked 38.01sec, 0.65 behind the Jamaicans.
They were even faster in the heats, when they set an Asian record of 37.92. And Bolt paid tribute to their technical excellence.
"They did their country proud," said the Jamaican superstar after completing yet another sprint treble.
"I was watching them in the warm-up and I was saying to the guys that they have one of the smoothest baton changes I have ever seen.
"They came out here and executed well and that's one of the reasons they got a medal."
While China has always been strong in race walking, the director of the Chinese Athletics Association, Du Zhaocai, hailed the fact that they had won medals in the sprints for the first time as a sign of progress.
"These performances are proof for us to show our efforts and the characteristics of Chinese athletics," he said.
New athletics boss Sebastian Coe was full of praise for the hosts both on and off the field, as he labelled the Aug 22-30 event "arguably the best world championships ever".
"I'm not surprised but I'm very pleased with the performance of the Chinese athletes. China will play a huge role (in) the development of our sport," said the Briton.
"The federation has been focusing its attention on producing good performances here, and you have done that exactly."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA