The crowd in the Bird's Nest, in the stadium to see Liu Xiang hurldle this morning was shocked to see an injured Liu Xiang pull up before the first hurde in his sixth heat of the first round the Men's 110 meter high hurdles. This is a huge loss for China..as 1.4 billion Chinese sports fans see their favorite track & field athlete, the athlete who gave them so much to be thankful for in Athens, unable to defend his title due to an achilles injury sustained in the past week...
Liu Xiang, the defending champion from Athens in the 110 meter hurdles, and one of the most popular athletes in China, will not be defending his hurdle gold medal. LIu Xiang got out of the blocks, stood up just before the first hurdle, limped visibly and took the race numbers off his legs. He walked back to the blocks, and sat behind them, visibly shaken.
According to a press conference held just after the race in the Main Press Centre, the coach of Liu Xiang noted that LIu Xiang had recovered from his hamstring issues that
surfaced at the Reebok NY Grand Prix on May 31 and had two good months of training.
Last Saturday, this new injury appeared during workout. LIu Xiang was determined to compete however, and he was, according to his coach, refusing to withdraw. The injury
is located at the spot where the achilles tendon and bone meet on his right foot, the take off foot, according to the spokesperson for the Chinese federation.
"During warmup, the pain intensified, " noted Liu Xiang's coach. During the press conference, Liu Xiang's coach, visibly shaken, began to weep, and expressed sadness at Liu Xiang being unable to compete. The coach and spokesperson also made a point of saying how much pain that LIu Xiang was enduring in order to compete.
A final comment from the Chinese spokesperson, " Liu Xiang will not likely compete any more this year, but he will be back."
On Chinese TV, Liu Xiang is shown getting into the blocks and after several steps, stopping, before the first hurdle. The crowd in the stadium visibly groaned, as their hero, in one of the most anticipated events of these Games, was unable to compete.
Liu Xiang is being used all over television in China, in commercials by VISA and NIke among others. One of the most popular and visible athletes of these Games, Liu Xiang's departure will pave the way for Dayron Robles, the new world record holder at the 110 meter hurdles to make his run for the gold medal in Beijing.
In an ironic twist, in an earlier heat, Terrance Trammell, two time Olympic silver medalist in the 110 meter hurdles, pulled up in his qualifying race, with a hamstring injury.
Robles's main adversaries now will be Americans David Oliver, and David Payne. Payne is the Osaka bronze medalist in the 110 meter hurdles.
This failure for Liu Xiang to win will be viewed, probably with much sympathy by the Chinese people. Xiang is popular and injuries are part of the game in world class sports. But how will his sponsors view this?
My guess is that Visa and Nike, will continue to use the commercials as Xiang's popularity will probably not fall in this country.
In sports, the best laid plans can go awry. Look at Tyson Gay, hurt by injuries and not recovered enough to compete in the 100 meters. In Beijing, many of the stars from Osaka have not done well.
Part of what makes the Olympics such a rivetting sports story and cultural story is the luck involved in making a final, being healthy on that day and competing at ones' best. Liu Xiang had that luck in 2004, his achilles injury ended that lucky run in 2008.
In the final analysis, one thoughtful observer told me that it was quite fortuitous that Mr. Xiang felt the pain once again during the false start. Such an achilles injury, if it had worsened while he was in full flight, it could end a career.
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